UT-Austin faculty member charged with 5 counts of possession of child pornography

Andrew Zhang

Content warning: This article contains multiple explicit references to child pornography and sexual violence.

McCombs School of Business faculty member Mario Villarreal has been charged with five counts of possession of child pornography, according to Williamson County criminal records. 

According to crime records, Villarreal was charged Sept. 16 with five counts of possession of child pornography, a third-degree felony. He was booked into the Williamson County Jail Friday and released Monday after posting a $250,000 bond, according to records. 

UT learned the Criminal Investigations Division in the Office of the Texas Attorney General arrested Villarreal on Friday, McCombs communications director Catenya McHenry said in an email. Villarreal was immediately placed on “investigation leave” and removed from all teaching and administrative duties, she said. 

McHenry confirmed Villarreal is an adjunct faculty member. According to the UT Directory, Villarreal, who declined comment on this story, is a finance lecturer and the managing director of the Salem Center for Policy. 

“The University performed a criminal background check when Villarreal was hired in 2019, which did not reveal any information related to prior criminal conduct or charges,” McHenry said. “The University is cooperating fully with law enforcement authorities as they investigate all matters related to the disturbing allegations raised in this case."

Villarreal exchanged child pornography with a woman in Tennessee, whose Knoxville home was searched, according to Villarreal’s arrest affidavit which was obtained by The Daily Texan through a public records request. The woman told investigators that Villarreal had sent her and bought child pornography from her within the past five years, according to the affidavit. 

According to the affidavit, Villarreal would send payments to the woman labeled as “presents” through apps such as Cash App. In July 2020, Customs and Border Patrol agents stopped Villarreal in Laredo, Texas, and found multiple Cash App transactions for “Candy” on his phone and an ID card identifying him as a UT faculty member, according to the affidavit.

Investigators saw chats between the woman and Villarreal where Villarreal discussed molesting a 3-year-old girl, according to the affidavit. One time, the woman said she video chatted with Villarreal where he said he was at work masturbating, according to the affidavit.

Knoxville police contacted the Office of the Texas Attorney General about Villarreal Aug. 10, according to the affidavit. Investigators went to Villarreal’s house in Round Rock on Sept. 16, where Villarreal denied any connection to child pornography in a voluntary interview before asking for a lawyer, according to the affidavit.

Investigators seized multiple electronic devices, including a desktop computer with 376 pictures of child pornography and a laptop computer with multiple videos of child pornography, according to the affidavit. Villarreal had multiple encryptions on all his devices, according to the affidavit.

His first court appearance is scheduled for Dec. 16, according to the jail records.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include details from the arrest affidavit.