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SALT LAKE CITY — A former Salt Lake City School Board member facing child pornography charges has pleaded not guilty to four new counts he now faces in federal court.
Magistrate Judge Daphne Oberg appointed a public defender for Joel-Lehi Organista, 29, Tuesday and entered the pleas on his behalf.
The development comes as the Salt Lake School District Board of Education prepares to interview candidates in a public meeting Tuesday evening to choose Organista's replacement. He resigned June 4, a day after his arrest.
Organista is the first board member to face such charges in the district's history, Salt Lake City School District spokeswoman Yándary Chatwin confirmed.
He has been in jail for about three weeks as he awaits trial on 11 related charges in the state system, including object rape of a child, a first-degree felony. Prosecutors in the Utah Attorney General's Office plan to drop all but the object rape count, spokesman Richard Piatt confirmed, now that Organista is facing the federal child pornography charges carrying heavier penalties.
Prosecutors say investigators seized devices containing child pornography from his home. They allege in court documents that he "admitted to using Snapchat to solicit minor children to perform sexual acts for his gratification."
The district has said it doesn't believe he victimized any students who attend its schools.
On Monday, Organista wore a jail uniform, glasses and face mask as he appeared in U.S. District Court over a video feed from the Salt Lake County Jail. He nodded and replied "yes" when Oberg asked if he understood the allegations.
Federal prosecutors formally charged him on June 23 with one count production of child pornography and three charges of receiving, transporting and possessing child pornography. A three-day trial is set to begin Sept. 3.
A federal conviction of production charge carries a minimum of 15 years in prison.
Organista was elected to the Salt Lake City School Board in November. He 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.
Defense attorney Spencer Rice said he's not seeking his client's release from jail for the time being because Organista is still being held on the state case and the federal charges carry a presumption of detention.