Loren Copp is facing child porn charges.
The karate-teaching former owner of Dojo Pizza has been found guilty on eight of nine child porn charges.
U.S. District Judge Audrey Fleissig announced her verdict this morning, seven months after the conclusion of Loren Copp's trial.
Fleissig said she believed the teen victims who testified
in April during the ten-day trial, and she rejected the ex-pastor's claims he was targeted in a complex conspiracy.
"These are brave victims," U.S. Attorney Jeff Jensen told reporters after. "These are very brave victims."
Copp, 49, was arrested in April 2016
following a long-running criminal investigation. He was accused of manipulating and sexually abusing underage girls who lived with him in the old Bevo Mill church he operated as a martial arts studio, school, community center and pizzeria.
Copp was the subject of an RFT cover story in December 2015
During the trial, federal prosecutors showed how the ex-pastor groomed, tricked and coerced young girls who ended up in his hands because they had nowhere else to go.
In some cases, he threatened them with homelessness. In others, he assumed fake online identities, posing as a thirteen-year-old girl
to goad his victims into sexualized games of truth or dare. He also pretended to be a school enforcement officer, ordering one of the girls in emails to submit to sex acts with Copp. If she didn't, the fake enforcement officer threatened to send one of her "guys" to sexually assault her.
"The main guy I use is twelve inches and the size of my arm. LOL," Copp, posing at the enforcement officer, wrote in of the emails to the young teen. "She should enjoy that."
FBI agents and St. Louis police raided Copp's building multiple times in the fall of 2015, seizing computer hard drives that would ultimately reveal a cache of twisted photos dating back years. The images of child pornography included pics of underage girls, who had stayed with the ex-pastor while their parents struggled with poverty or drug abuse or were incarcerated.
Two of the girls had lived with Copp nearly a decade, so long that he introduced them to people as his daughters. They originally moved in with him and his wife after their mother lost her apartment. One of the girls said Copp started coercing her into sex at age eleven or twelve. She testified that his wife walked in on them one day in 2013. An abuse claim was filed against Copp shortly after. He subsequently split with his wife and moved the girls into the converted church.
The prosecution, led by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Winfield, produced photos from Copp's computer of a man sexually assaulting the older girl in the master bedroom of his former home. The man's face wasn't visible, but prosecutors said you could tell it was him by his round belly and the karate tape on his foot. Also, the girl testified that he was the one in the picture. Judge Fleissig said she believed it was in fact Copp in the photos.
The abuse continued in the church, where Copp opened up a restaurant called Dojo Pizza. He also took in more girls, abusing them as well, authorities say. Winfield and Assistant U.S. Attorney Colleen Lang were able to connect him to a series of photos and messages he solicited while posing as teenage "Chrissy."
Chrissy frequently asked the girls for naked, explicit photos and asked them to perform sex acts to or in front of "Grandpa" — one of their nicknames for Copp.
Internet protocol addresses and accounts traced back to Copp, and investigators found images the girls had sent to their supposed young friend saved on his hard drive.
He represented himself in the case, casting aside his attorneys less than two weeks before trial. The move surely hurt him
, but it also allowed him to personally cross examine his victims. He tried to claim someone else was behind the Chrissy account and he was targeted by a vindictive former volunteer at Dojo Pizza, a St. Louis detective and possibly others who somehow managed to plant child porn on his computers. Fleissig didn't buy it.
She found him guilty on all but one count, a charge of using interstate facilities for coercion of a minor in which the judge says she could not determine if specific acts occurred while the girl was still under the age of fifteen years old.
Copp, dressed in a maroon sweater and black slacks, said little during the proceedings. His father sat stoically in the front row on the left while Jensen, investigators and attorneys filled the right side of the courtroom.
Fleissig set sentencing for April 5, 2019. Copp faces a minimum of 15 years on three of the charges, but the judge could stack them together. He faces a maximum of life in prison on other charges. He previously rejected a plea offer of twenty years.
We welcome tips and feedback. Email the author at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow on Twitter at @DoyleMurphy.