Warrants: Ex-youth pastor acted as mentor to 'groom' teen for sexting
Posted July 24, 2013
Cary, N.C. — 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.