DODGE CITY, Kan. (CN) - A staffer for the new chairman of the U.S. House Tea Party Caucus was arrested and charged with 17 child sex crimes.
Matthew P. Pennell was arrested March 5 by Dodge City Police and charged with 17 counts of sexual exploitation of a child.
Pennell's bail was set at $75,000.
U.S. Rep. Tim Huelskamp's office said it placed Pennell on leave without pay upon learning of his arrest. Huelskamp's Chief of Staff Mark Kelly then told the Kansas City Star that Pennell had been fired.
All 17 criminal counts allege possession of a visual depiction of a child under 18 years old, "shown or heard engaging in sexually explicit conduct with intent to arouse or satisfy the sexual desires of appeal to the prurient interest of the offender, the child or another."
Pennell was a constituent services representative in Huelskamp's Dodge City office. Huelskamp's 1st Congressional District, known in Kansas as the Big First, encompasses 63 counties in north and western Kansas. It is one of the largest congressional districts in the nation, by area, and one of the most strongly conservative.
Huelskamp assumed leadership of the House Tea Party Caucus after the departure of Congresswoman Michele Bachmann.
Huelskamp is an outspoken pro-life advocate whom, the liberal blog site ThinkProgress named in 2012 as "the most anti-gay member of Congress."
Sexual exploitation of a child is a felony in Kansas, punishable by up to 4 years in prison for each count.
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