Holyoke City Councilor Puello-Mota, charged with possession of child porn, arrested on new charges in Rhode Island

  • WILMER PUELLO-MOTA WILMER PUELLO-MOTA

  • Holyoke Ward 2 City Councilor Wilmer Puello-Mota. Photographed at a swearing-in ceremony for officials at Holyoke City Hall on Monday, Jan. 3, 2022. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 5/17/2022 1:38:29 PM

HOLYOKE — In January 2021, Rhode Island prosecutors charged Holyoke City Councilor Wilmer “Will” Puello-Mota with possession of child pornography after allegedly finding sexually explicit photos and videos of a 17-year-old girl on his phone in 2020.

Puello-Mota, who was 24 at the time of his arrest in September 2020, pleaded not guilty to the felony charge in January 2021, was released on bail and was working with his lawyers either to have the case diverted or converted to an offense that wouldn’t require him to register as a sex offender, according to court documents.

State prosecutors were amenable to those requests, provided that Puello-Mota meet certain conditions, including that he prove that his supervisors in the Massachusetts Air National Guard knew about the charge and supported his continued service, the records say.

But last week, Puello-Mota was rearrested on two more charges — obstruction of justice as well as forgery and counterfeiting — after he allegedly forged his military supervisor’s signature on a fraudulent military memo to Rhode Island prosecutors, according to a recently filed affidavit and arrest warrant from police in Warwick, Rhode Island.

Puello-Mota is now being held without bail for allegedly violating his terms of release. Attempts to reach him by phone call and email were unsuccessful Monday, though he is in custody.

Robert Rizzuto, a spokesman for the Hampden County Sheriff’s Department, confirmed Tuesday that Puello-Mota is incarcerated at the Hampden County Correctional Center in Ludlow.

A message left with the law office of Puello-Mota’s attorney, Robert Munns, went unreturned Monday.

Puello-Mota is a staff sergeant in the Air National Guard, stationed at Barnes Air National Guard Base in Westfield. He ran for an at-large seat on the City Council in 2019 but was not elected. Last year, he ran unopposed for the vacant Ward 2 seat and was sworn in this year.

According to Warwick police nar ratives submitted to Kent County Superior Court, officers responded to a hotel room on May 30, 2020, after a gun was reported stolen from the room. When they arrived, a 17-year-old girl told officers that the gun was Puello-Mota’s and that he was her “sugar daddy,” the documents allege. Police allege that Puello-Mota told them he had met the juvenile online, initially believing she was 22, and had not had any sexual contact with her.

“The juvenile victim was interviewed and she revealed that the defendant provided her money through Venmo in exchange for sexually explicit photos of her masturbating after the defendant was aware that she was 17 years of age,” the police narrative alleges. “This information was substantiated by the forensic examination of the defendant’s cell phone which showed ... the defendant possessing video on his cell phone, in a trash folder, showing the female victim masturbating.”

The Gazette has a policy of not identifying victims of sexual misconduct.

On May 3, 2022, as the case was continuing to make its way through the court system, Puello-Mota’s attorney sent Rhode Island prosecutors a memo on “Department of Air Force” letterhead that contained the digital signature of Puello-Mota’s immediate military supervisor, Technical Sgt. Steven Kelliher, the court records allege. That memo said that Puello-Mota was on active duty, was fully qualified to perform his duties and was “being considered for deployment pending a positive case outcome,” the records say.

Prosecutors allege that they then asked for a phone number for another of Puello-Mota’s military supervisors, Maj. Samuel Bath, and after calling that number, spoke with the person on the other end of the line, who said the military wished to retain Puello-Mota if the case was resolved favorably.

Prosecutors said they then asked for Bath’s email address and sent a follow-up message, after which military officials quickly got in touch with them.

Special Assistant Attorney General Arthur DeFelice “noticed that the real Maj. Bath was a different person than he just spoke to,” the court documents say.

Kelliher later provided a statement that said that when a Rhode Island judge had contacted him about Puello-Mota’s service, Puello-Mota “lied to TSgt. Kelliher by telling him that he was involved in a research program that would examine how a service member progresses through the criminal justice system and the charges were not real,” the records allege.

Kelliher went on to say that he had never given any written documents to Puello-Mota for the case.

“Maj. Bath was able to determine that the suspected memo was fraudulent,” the records state.

In a statement Tuesday, Holyoke Mayor Joshua Garcia said that he has become aware of the charges against Puello-Mota.

“We have faith in the justice system,” Garcia said. “I suggest we let the authorities do their jobs and that we refrain from judgment.”

City Council President Todd McGee said that he shares the mayor’s sentiment, noting that he hadn’t yet seen much information about the charges against Puello-Mota.

“We’re going to let the authorities do their jobs and we have full faith in them,” McGee said. When asked, he said that the City Council doesn’t have a recall provision to remove members.

Puello-Mota is next due in court on May 24 for a pretrial conference, according to the court documents.

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.

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