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Salt Lake City School Board member now charged with object rape of a child

Joel-Lehi Organista
Salt Lake City School District

A Salt Lake City School Board member accused of possessing child pornography is now also accused of sexually abusing a child.

Joel-Lehi Organista, 29, of Salt Lake City, was charged Friday in 3rd District Court by the Utah Attorney General's Office with object rape of a child and sexual exploitation of a minor, both first-degree felonies. He was also charged with nine counts of sexual exploitation of a minor, a second-degree felony, and prosecutors say they anticipate additional charges being filed.

Organista was elected to the Salt Lake City School District's Board of Education in November. On Thursday, hours after his arrest, board members called for his immediate resignation. As of early Friday afternoon, the district had not heard from Organista. He is still believed to be in the Salt Lake County Jail.

The investigation into Organista started in January when suspected child pornography was uploaded to a Dropbox account, according to charging documents. A search warrant served on the account revealed pictures and videos of child pornography contained within folders with titles such as “Young” and “Baby Vids,” the charges state.

After tracing the account to Organista, a search warrant was served on his home Wednesday. Investigators found “multiple devices containing child pornography,” according to the charges.

When interviewed by members of the attorney general’s task force, Organista also “admitted to using Snapchat to contact minor children and solicit them for child pornography and to perform sexual acts for him via video chat,” the charging documents state. “In these communications, Organista requested the children take naked images of themselves and perform sexual acts for him.”

One of the victims was a 12-year-old boy, according to investigators.

District officials said Thursday that based on what they had been told at the time, none of the alleged victims were students in the school district.

Prosecutors further state in their court filing that they anticipate additional charges will be filed against Organista as investigators continue to search his electronic devices. They have requested that he be held in the Salt Lake County Jail without bail.

“There is clear and convincing evidence (Organista) is a substantial danger to children in the community. (He) admitted to the sexual abuse of children and manufacturing of child pornography. (He) is a member of the Salt Lake City School Board and had access to children K-12 as part of his position. The state anticipates additional charges as the investigation continues to identify more children victimized by (Organista),” prosecutors wrote in the motion requesting no bail.

Additionally, prosecutors say other reasons that Organista should say behind bars is because they fear that because “Pretrial Services lacks the resources and authority to adequately enforce” any conditions that might be set by a judge as conditions for Organista’s release prior to his court hearings, and because he still has family in Mexico.

Organista, originally from Mexico, graduated from West High School and later taught at Horizonte High School. In 2019 he was named as one of Utah’s “20 in their 20s” by Utah Business because of a website he created for educators.

He was elected to the Salt Lake City School Board in November. Organista also served as the national vice president of youth for the League of United Latin American Citizens and taught a continuing education class at the University of Utah.

By Thursday afternoon, nearly all of the groups he was associated with had condemned his actions and either called for his resignation or suspended him.

The school board does not have the power to officially remove Organista from his seat because he was elected. If he refuses to submit his resignation, board members will likely vote to censure Organista during their next meeting. If he is convicted of a sexual offense against a child, state law would prohibit him from being a school board member.