Ernest Garza, 23, of Robstown, pleaded guilty to charges of receiving child pornography last week, according to a press release from the U.S. District Attorney's office.

A federal indictment charging Garza with the federal felony offense was returned by a Corpus Christi grand jury on March 11.

At a hearing late afternoon on April 28, before United States District Judge Hayden Head, Garza admitted he received images of child pornography via the Internet in violation of federal law, officials with the U.S. District Attorney's office said.

The investigation leading to the execution of a search warrant in September 2008 and the federal indictment March of this year, was conducted by special agents of the FBI after an undercover operation lead to the discovery of child exploitation images being offered for download via the internet by Garza.

The search of Garza's Robstown home by FBI agents, along with members of the Corpus Christi Police Department, resulted in the seizure of a Gateway laptop computer found to contain numerous child exploitation videos and images. Garza confessed to using the computer to conduct Internet searches for child pornography.

A forensic examination of the computer confirmed Garza had been downloading child pornography as recently as September 2008. Some of the children in the child exploitation images and videos possessed by Garza have been previously identified by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Garza has been in custody since his arrest in March and will remain in custody pending his sentencing hearing. He faces a maximum of 20 years in federal prison without parole to be followed by up to a lifetime term of supervised release during which the court may impose a host of conditions designed to prevent Garza's criminal behavior and protect minors.

Sentencing has been set for July 13, 2009.

The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Lance Duke.

This case was brought as part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse launched in May 2006 by the Department of Justice.