One was sexually abused more than 20 years ago. Another chose to stop receiving notifications from law enforcement due to the volume of messages every time the images were discovered again. Yet another self-medicated with drugs and alcohol and died of an overdose.
For almost 1½ hours at the sentencing Monday of former College Park Mayor Patrick Wojahn in Prince George’s County Circuit Court, Assistant State’s Attorneys Monica Meyers and Jess Garth explained how possession and distribution of child sexual abuse material is not a victimless crime.
Law enforcement, prosecutors said, knew the names of 52 children who appeared in images on Wojahn’s cellphone. They experienced sexual abuse all over the world. The United States. Canada. Mexico. Spain. Germany. The United Kingdom.
But there were hundreds, if not thousands more children that investigators could not identify. The total number was so large, prosecutors said, that it surpassed the enrollment of Wojahn’s local elementary school, Hollywood Elementary.
“Even though the victim is separated from the person who is abusing them by a computer screen, they exist,” said Garth, who is chief of the Special Victims and Family Violence Unit in the Prince George’s County State’s Attorney’s Office, at a news conference. “They’re real people.”
Wojahn, 48, a Democrat who served as mayor from 2015 to 2023, was later sentenced pursuant to a plea agreement on 140 counts of possession and distribution of child pornography to 30 years in prison, plus five years’ probation. He must also register as a sex offender for 25 years.
Standing in an orange jumpsuit from the Calvert County Detention Center, Wojahn said he recognized that he contributed to the victimization of children and stated that he was deeply sorry for his actions.
“From the bottom of my heart, I recognize the damage that I have caused,” he said. “And I am truly, truly sorry.”
Wojahn said he still cannot explain what led him to go down a “very dark and dangerous and destructive path.” He said he wants to find out and seek help.
Besides apologizing to those depicted in the child sexual abuse material, Wojahn said he was sorry to the people of College Park as well as his friends and family members. “I want to be the person they know me to be,” he said.
Circuit Judge Karen H. Mason noted that Wojahn had a courtroom full of people there to support him, which is not the case for some survivors of sexual abuse. But she said she believed he was remorseful for the crime, noting that he accepted responsibility.
The Prince George’s County Police Department started looking into Wojahn after receiving a tip from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and investigators on Feb. 28 executed a search warrant at his home. Law enforcement found “a very large quantity” of child sexual abuse material on Wojahn’s cellphone, prosecutors said, and discovered that he would exchange images when he grew bored with his current collection.
Prosecutors described the origins of dozens of the images recovered from Wojahn’s device. They played one video and read excerpts of victim impact statements from some of the children and their parents.
Wojahn quit his job as mayor in early March and wrote in his letter of resignation that he was “stepping away to deal with my own mental health.”
David Moyse, Wojahn’s attorney, noted that his client confessed to law enforcement and cooperated in the prosecution.
“We cannot overlook that this was a matter of mental health and addiction,” Moyse said. “Patrick Wojahn knows he has a problem.”
Moyse described his client’s decision to take a plea agreement as a “continuation of his acceptance of responsibility and guilt.” Wojahn will receive credit for the time he’s already spent incarcerated.
More than a dozen family members, friends and community members spoke on behalf of Wojahn and described him as a dedicated public servant who tried to make the world a better place. Some characterized the sentence as excessive, arguing to the judge that he needed mental health treatment instead of incarceration.
His husband, Dave Kolesar, said it was well-documented how much good Wojahn has done in the world.
Kolesar questioned the fairness and motivation of the state’s attorney, noting that she voted in 2012 against the Civil Marriage Protection Act, which legalized same-sex marriages in the state, while serving in the Maryland House of Delegates.
Wojahn, he said, was under incredible pressure to accept a plea agreement. Kolesar said his husband recently disclosed that he experienced abuse as a child and declared that the sentence sends a horrible message to other survivors.
“In spite of everything, I continue to look up to him,” Kolesar said. “To my husband, I want to say I love you.”
Speaking to reporters after the court proceedings, Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy described the resolution as a “very fair but important sentence.”
“This sentence is instructive: It instructs us that child pornography is not simply about images,” Braveboy said. “It’s about the pain behind the images.”
“No child deserves to be sexually abused,” she added. “No child deserves for their images to be displayed on the internet or any platform for hundreds or thousands or possibly millions of people to view.”