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Press Release

Discord User Who “Catfished” Young Victims Is Sentenced To 21 Years In Prison For Production Of Child Pornography

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Western District of North Carolina

CHARLOTTE, N.C. B  Aaron Joseph Wehrstein, 25, of Columbus, N.C., was sentenced yesterday to 21 years in prison for production of child pornography, announced Dena J. King, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina. Wehrstein was also ordered to pay a $5,000 special assessment, to serve a lifetime of supervised release, to pay restitution to the victims of his offense, and to register as a sex offender after he is released from prison.

Cardell T. Morant, Special Agent in Charge of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in North Carolina and South Carolina, and Sheriff Timothy Wright of the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, join U.S. Attorney King in making today’s announcement.

According to court documents and information introduced at the sentencing hearing, law enforcement received a tip from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) alerting them that an individual with the screenname JessicaLovesYou#1816 was using Discord to distribute child pornography. Discord is a popular free application that allows users to communicate with each other via voice and video calls and text messaging, and to share media files through private chats or communities.

Court records show that law enforcement initiated an investigation and determined that the Discord user was Wehrstein. The investigation further revealed that Wehrstein would “catfish” minor males via Discord by posing as a female and would send the unsuspecting minors sexually explicit images of females, claiming to the person in those images. Wehrstein would then induce the minor victims to reciprocate by creating and sending him sexually explicit images and videos of themselves.

In September 2021, law enforcement executed a search warrant at Wehrstein’s residence, seizing several electronic devices. A forensic analysis of those devices revealed that, in addition to using Discord, Wehrstein also used Twitter to communicate with minors and to receive child pornography created by the victims. In total, Wehrstein possessed more than 4,197 images and videos of child pornography. The investigation further determined that Wehrstein had induced at least eight male victims, between the ages of 12 and 17, to produce and send him child pornography via Discord and Twitter.

“Wehrstein is an online predator who used a catfishing scheme to prey upon innocent victims, causing them significant emotional distress and mental anguish,” said U.S. Attorney King. “My office and our law enforcement partners are committed to protecting vulnerable young people from predators like Wehrstein and seeking justice for victims harmed by this deplorable criminal conduct.”

“Homeland Security Investigations aggressively pursues child predators, and cases involving child sex abuse material. Now Wehrstein will be held accountable for his predatory and reprehensible behavior,” said Special Agent in Charge Morant. “Today we are once again reminded of the need for constant online vigilance to protect the most vulnerable among us.”

On March 29, 2024, Wehrstein pleaded guilty to using a minor to engage in sexually explicit conduct for the purpose of producing a visual depiction of such conduct. Wehrstein will remain in federal custody until he is transferred to the custody of the federal Bureau of Prisons.

U.S. Attorney King thanked the HSI and the Polk County Sheriff’s Office for their investigation of this case.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Alexis Solheim of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Asheville prosecuted the case.

This case was brought as part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative launched in 2006 by the Department of Justice, aimed at combating the growing online sexual exploitation of children.  By combining resources, federal, state and local agencies are better able to locate, apprehend and prosecute individuals who exploit children via the Internet, as well as to identify and rescue those victims.  For more information about Project Safe Childhood, please visit


Updated June 4, 2024

Project Safe Childhood