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Warrants: Ex-youth pastor acted as mentor to 'groom' teen for sexting

Posted July 24, 2013

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— A Cary man accused of exchanging "sexts" – nude photos via text message – with a 16-year-old was the girl's youth pastor and acted as a spiritual mentor to gain her trust, according to search warrants returned Wednesday.

Josh Parker Wheeless, 28, was charged last week with first-degree sexual exploitation of a minor and placed in the Wake County jail under a $250,000 bond. 

Investigators say Wheeless, a married father of three girls, was once a minister of youth and outreach for Landmark Freewill Baptist Church in Cary. During his tenure there, he met the victim and the two formed a friendship. They communicated on Facebook and later began texting, the warrants allege.

"Josh was trying to be a 'mentor' or some type of spiritual leader to [the victim]. He used a lot of references about God and how he would pray for her," the warrants state. "But as they continued to talk, Joshua started to act more like a boyfriend instead of a mentor."

Eventually, investigators said, Wheeless asked the teen to send nude photos of herself and he sent nude photos in return. Their text messages were often graphic in nature and when the victim didn't understand a sexual reference, the warrants state, she would Google the terms and be directed to pornographic websites.

"It was clear that [the victim] was extremely naive and being taken advantage of," the warrants state. "It is clear that Josh used his age and position as a former youth/spiritual leader to groom [the victim] and gain her trust."

After her father discovered the text messages and called police, investigators spoke with the victim who said she "really trusted Josh." Though she deleted many of the messages, she estimated the two had exchanged more than 100 nude photos.  

During a search of Wheeless' house, investigators seized two computers, a cellphone, flash drive, e-reader and digital camera. Investigators said they believe the electronics could contain more evidence of child pornography. 

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  • ihatewralcensorship Jul 31, 2013

    theblazer-meh...ridiculous argument. Like saying drinking one cup of coffee makes you a caffeine addict. People that say he is a predator watch too much TV and buy our corrupt legal systems definitions. Just because someone does a non violent thing, even a bad thing like this, one time, does not make them anything,. In this case, it was a sin. No one ever talks about the 'victim' who reciprocated in this incident, making the whole thing possible, including and up to the arrest, possible. The latter is unjust.
    That last statement was way over the top about two faced individuals in the ministry, and solidifies the in-validness of your previous statements.

  • theblazer Jul 30, 2013

    How can people read the facts and say he isn't a predator? The circumstances in this case prove what he did was prey on a naïve girl who he had "authority" over as a "pastor". Do not defend the individual because of his religious position. He may not have started out preying on young girls; but he did prey on a young girl, and now he is a sex offender and a predator. There are way too many two faced individuals in the ministry today, this one just happened to get caught.

  • ihatewralcensorship Jul 30, 2013

    GravyPig. No way they find child porn. That is a quantum leap from sexting. Would I let Josh sext with my daughters? Of course not. But he did text with them for years, incident free. If he were a child predator we would have seen bad behavior before now, and we havent.
    WRAL was irresponsible to print that they investigators 'could find more evidence of child pornography' without facts. They had a choice to not repeat what investigators said, also known as hearsay until proven, and they chose the low road. Surprise. Its WRAL.

  • itsmyownopinion Jul 29, 2013

    GravyPig, I'm two days late getting to this story, but I agree with you.

  • GravyPig Jul 26, 2013

    "The last paragraph is just a flat out lie."

    So they did not go to his house? They didn't take any electronics? The investigators didn't say they expect to find child porn?

    "Like the GZ case the media is helping to increase the potential for a greater sentence for this man without evidence and without cause."

    The media isn't conducting the investigation, they are merely reporting the facts as given to them by the investigators.

    "They go from sexting to child porn in the article but of course this isnt reality."

    Oh, are you speaking from personal experience?

    "I know this man-he made a mistake but is no predator."

    So you would let him sext your daughters? I mean he's not a predator right? You should have no problem with it then.

    For a man in his position, this is more than a "mistake".

  • ihatewralcensorship Jul 26, 2013

    The last paragraph is just a flat out lie. They go from sexting to child porn in the article but of course this isnt reality. I know this man-he made a mistake but is no predator. Like the GZ case the media is helping to increase the potential for a greater sentence for this man without evidence and without cause. Never mind the little 'victim' that responded to his texts and pics of her own.

  • Lightfoot3 Jul 25, 2013

    "MichaelOps, the age of consent does not apply if a 28 year old is involved." - Lyle2


    I think it does, but that applies to actual sex. The nude photos is what got him in trouble.

  • seven74215 Jul 25, 2013

    No me2you I wasn't kidding about 16 year olds being more naive today. My mother and grandmother were married at 16. They were mentally full grown women at this age and knew the ways of the world. My mother got married in South Carolina on a Friday and the following Monday was picking cotton. A couple years down the road she had a child to take care of, was working in the field and then coming home and keeping up the house. My grandmother did the same. These were not women that didn't know what was going on around them. They were fully aware and knew what was to be done. Todays 16 year olds don't have a clue about the real world. And yes the father did find these textfind but after 100 pictures were exchanged. Now just how long do you think that took?

  • me2you Jul 25, 2013

    Typical comments on here...apparently some of you have super powers and can stop every single bad thing from happening around you, then trash others who don't.
    The father found the messages, so stop asking why the parent wasn't monitoring. And the comment about todays 16 yrs old being more naive compared to back in the day....LOL! You've got to be kidding.

  • seven74215 Jul 25, 2013

    What this man did is terrible and he should suffer under the fullest extent of the law. However, apparently todays 16 year olds are very, very naive compared to back in my day of 16 year olds. Plus as mentioned already, do parents not check up from time to time with what their children are doing on phones and computers. As a parent you have the right and obligation to look at their phones and computers. If they don't like it then take them away and only let them use these items in your presence. This wasn't something that happened overnight. Put the phones done and spend some time together talking and maybe this won't happen to your child.

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