ST PAUL, Minn. — A substitute teacher and school paraprofessional faces years in prison for a "extortion" scheme that unfolded over several years and victimized more than ten minors.
Federal prosecutors say 25-year-old Mitchell James Ottinger, a resident of Carver County, pleaded guilty to charges of child pornography and extortion. They alleged that Ottinger used the fake online personas of "Rachel Meyer" and "Taylor Malek" to contact his male victims, at least some of whom were students at the school district where Ottinger worked, and was able to obtain sexually explicit images and videos of them.
Investigators learned that he would then threaten to post or distribute those explicit images unless they sent him more. Authorities say Ottinger victimized both minors and adults with his scheme.
The break in the case came in July of 2020 when a 15-year-old victim contacted the FBI National Threat Operations Center and reported Ottinger's threats.
A federal complaint filed in May of 2021 says investigators recovered an image of a work badge that indicated Ottinger worked at an elementary school. In an email to KARE 11 a spokesperson for the Eastern Carver County Schools confirmed that Ottinger had worked for the district but "was removed from our substitute roster and no longer employed by the district as of May 5, 2021."
Ottinger pleaded guilty to two counts of production and attempted production of child pornography, and one count of interstate communication with intent to extort before U.S. District Judge Wilhelmina M. Wright. In court filings documenting his plea agreement Ottinger admitted that his sextortion scheme had gone on for at least nine years, starting when he was 16 or 17 years old. The document says at least two of his victims were targeted beginning when they were just ten years old.
At this time a sentencing date has not been set, but the plea agreement lays out sentencing guidelines that range from a minimum of 15 years to a maximum of 62 years, with the potential for lifetime supervised release.
Based on the evidence obtained during the course of the investigation, authorities believe there may be additional victims of Ottinger they have not identified. Anyone who was extorted or has information about his activities is asked to call the FBI Minneapolis Division at 763-569-8000.