A former substitute teacher in Carver County admitted to using online personas of girls to trick underage boys into sending him nude pictures and videos, then threatening to share those images widely if they didn't send more.

Mitchell James Ottinger, 25, pleaded guilty to the so-called "catfishing" scheme in U.S. District Court this week. Federal prosecutors say these schemes, also known as "sextortion," have become alarmingly popular in Minnesota over the past seven years, and law enforcement has struggled to keep up with the volume of hard-to-solve cases.

Using variations of screen names "Rachel Meyer" and "Taylor Malek," Ottinger began contacting potential victims on social media apps like Snapchat in 2013. Ottinger sent explicit videos of the girls he purported to be, encouraging the victims to create and send back sexually graphic videos of themselves. He then threatened to send those images to the victims' family and friends if they didn't continue to send more.

In one case, a 15-year-old victim blocked Ottinger on social media, and Ottinger texted him a nude photo of the boy exposed in front of a mirror. "Unblock me and be a good boy or I'll show my friends … U can't just ghost me," Ottinger wrote, according to charging documents.

Over the eight-year period, Ottinger victimized more than 10 minors, some of whom he knew from the school district where he worked, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Ottinger pleaded guilty to two counts of production and attempted production of child pornography and one count of interstate communication with intent to extort. His sentencing date has not yet been set.

Sextortion is a relatively new term that describes a range of online schemes involving coercion, usually on social media sites or apps. A predator often poses as a teenager and manipulates a victim into sending sexually explicit photos. Then they prey on the child's worst fear: to be exposed to their classmates, coaches, teachers or faith leaders, unless their victims give money, photos or sexual favors.

Sextortion cases are difficult to track, in part because they are underreported. The FBI issued a public service announcement this summer saying it had received over 16,000 sextortion complaints in 2021.

Andy Mannix • 612-673-4036