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St. Louis pastor and pizza shop owner guilty of 8 counts in child sex case

St. Louis pastor and pizza shop owner guilty of 8 counts in child sex case

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ST. LOUIS • A former pastor and owner of a combination St. Louis pizza restaurant and martial arts studio accused in a child sex case was found guilty Wednesday of eight charges.

The 10-day bench trial of Loren “Sensei” Copp on nine felony counts — including production, attempted production and possession of child pornography and the use of interstate facilities to persuade or coerce a minor to engage in sexual activity — ended in April. U.S. District Judge Audrey Fleissig heard the case, and on Wednesday announced her verdict of guilty on eight of the nine counts.

Copp was found not guilty on one of several counts of using interstate facilities to persuade or coerce a minor to engage in sexual activity. Wednesday’s hearing included graphic details about Copp’s sex acts and nude or pornographic images and video of the girls. The girls were younger than 15 at the time, including one girl who was 11 at the time of the abuse.

Copp, 49, of St. Louis, has been in jail pending the outcome of the case. He made no statements in court other than replying “yes” when the judge asked him if he understood her verdict.

Federal prosecutors said Copp faces 15 years to life in prison when he is sentenced April 5. U.S. Attorney Jeff Jensen said prosecutors are “very satisfied with this verdict” and that it means “the victims’ voices have been heard.”

Copp groomed two young girls before sexually abusing them at Copp’s “DoJo Pizza” shop in St. Louis, prosecutors said. They also say he took pictures while he raped them. After someone raised concerns with state officials in 2013 about Copp’s behavior with young girls, he left his wife and moved to a combination martial arts studio, pizza shop and sanctuary at 4601 Morganford Road in St. Louis, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Winfield said at his trial. Copp’s pizza shop operated as a nonprofit to support free karate classes, its website once said.

A third girl’s complaints led to raids and searches in fall 2015 that found child pornography on computers, Winfield said.

Winfield also said Copp used fake Facebook and email accounts, once pretending to be a school resource official who threatened one of the girls if she did not perform sex acts on Copp. Prosecutors said Copp used a Facebook account posing as a 13-year-old girl named “Chrissy” to obtain explicit images of three girls.

Copp, who represented himself at trial, accused investigators of having “tunnel vision” and said anyone could have accessed the computers where child porn was found or the internet connection in the dojo. He also said he had alibis for at least some of the times when the computers or the Facebook account were accessed.

“These are very brave victims,” Jensen told reporters outside the Thomas F. Eagleton U.S. Courthouse after Wednesday’s verdict. “They always are in these types of cases. They’re tough cases, but they went in there and testified, and the judge believed them, and that’s the most important thing ... their testimony was extremely important, and we’re grateful to them and for their bravery.”

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