NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WRIC) — A non-commissioned Air Force servicemember stationed in Newport News has pleaded guilty to six counts of child sexual abuse after he admitted to soliciting child pornography from underage girls on Snapchat.

Elliott Velez — identified by prosecutors as “an active duty servicemember who was located in Newport News” and originally from Surprise, Arizona — pleaded guilty on Tuesday, Nov. 22.

Langley Airforce Base confirmed to 8News that Velez is an active duty Senior Master Sergeant who was stationed at the facility until his arrest on March 31. Velez has been on “no-pay” status since his arrest, and officials said officers in Velez’s chain of command would “decide on military action after receipt and review of the documents and evidence.”

“The Air Force takes all allegations involving children very seriously and fully cooperated with civilian authorities throughout this case,” said the base spokesperson. “We commend the investigative and prosecutorial work by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Justice”

The Investigation

According to an FBI affidavit, authorities were initially alerted to Velez’s crimes through a tip by Snap, Inc., the company that owns Snapchat. They submitted a list of 7 usernames and four email addresses — most variations on the name “Zane Smith” — that had been identified as containing potential child pornography.

From there, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) passed the tip to the Bedford County sheriff’s office, which eventually forwarded it to the FBI field office in Norfolk.

They subpoenaed Snapchat and found that all of the usernames and email addresses were registered to the same IP address, which allowed the FBI to track the usernames to Elliott Velez’s Newport News address.

The FBI also got a search warrant for the messages sent by the accounts, which revealed extensive conversations in which he requested and received sexually explicit images and videos from several prepubescent girls. In a statement of facts attested to by Velez as part of his guilty plea, he admitted to soliciting the production of child pornography from at least six minor victims.

But the search also uncovered evidence linking Velez himself to the messages. Those included a selfie dated September 2021, a photo of his home in Newport News and a photo of a computer issued by the United States Air Force.

Velez now faces up to 30 years in prison, and a statutory mandatory minimum of 15 years. He’s set to be sentenced in Norfolk on March 22, 2023.