Ex-Salt Lake School Board member sent to prison for sex abuse of a child

A former Salt Lake City School Board member was sentenced to prison Tuesday for soliciting explicit videos from a child.

Joel-Lehi Organista was ordered to serve a term of 15 years to life in prison for aggravated sexual abuse of a minor, a first-degree felony, and a term of one to 15 years for enticing a minor over internet or text, a second-degree felony. Third District Judge Heather Brereton ordered the sentences to run concurrently. Organista pleaded guilty to both charges as part of a plea bargain.

At the short sentencing hearing, Organista declined to make any comments and the judge did not make any comments outside of the sentence she pronounced.

Organista admitted that between January and June of 2021, while he was a school board member, he befriended a boy under the age of 14 on Snapchat and talked the boy into performing sexual acts on video and sending the video to him, according to a statement in support of his guilty pleas.

Organista, 29, was initially charged with object rape of a child and sexual exploitation of a minor, first-degree felonies, and nine counts of sexual exploitation of a minor, a second-degree felony. In November, these charges were dropped in exchange for his guilty pleas.

Investigators say child pornography had been uploaded to an account at Organista's home. Police noted that Organista had access to young children in his "position of trust with grades K-12" and that he "frequently meets children online, solicits nude photographs from them, and has private online video conversation with them," according to a police affidavit.

Board members said at the time of his arrest that they did not believe any students in the Salt Lake City School District had been victimized.

Police said they found child pornography on multiple electronic devices owned by Organista.

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Organista resigned from his position on the school board the day after he was arrested in June.

Because Organista is awaiting sentencing on federal child pornography charges, he will not serve his sentence at a state prison but will instead go to a federal prison.

Organista pleaded guilty in federal court on Jan. 10 to production of child pornography and transportation of child pornography, with the understanding that two additional counts — receipt and possession of child pornography — would be dropped. His sentencing in the federal case is set for May 17.

Brereton said the recommendation is that her sentence for the state charges will also run concurrently with any sentence given for the federal charges. The Department of Justice said in a statement Tuesday that prosecutors have agreed to recommend a 15-year sentence for Organista's federal charges. The maximum possible sentence also includes a lifetime of supervised release.

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