ST. LOUIS • A former pastor and owner of a St. Louis pizza restaurant and martial arts studio said Wednesday that despite what may seem to be "overwhelming" evidence supporting child sex charges against him, there is "reason to doubt."
Loren “Sensei” Copp's comments came during opening statements in his federal trial in St. Louis 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.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Winfield said Copp began grooming two young girls in 2008-2009 with the "butt game," which involved him hitting them on the rear and running away. He began touching them, then sexually abusing them, she said, taking pictures while he raped them.
After someone raised concerns with the state in 2013, Copp left his wife and moved to a combination martial arts studio, pizza shop and sanctuary at 4601 Morganford Road in St. Louis, Winfield said. DoJo Pizza operated as a nonprofit to support free karate classes, its website once said.
A third child complained about inappropriate touching by Copp and the "butt game" at the Morganford address, triggering raids and searches in the fall of 2015 that found child porn on computers, Winfield said.
The three girls disclosed sexual abuse by Copp and identified themselves, and sometimes Copp, in the images containing child porn, Winfield said. Investigators also discovered that Copp used fake Facebook and email accounts as a way to encourage the girls to engage in sexual activity. The email account purportedly belonged to a school official who threatened a girl if she did not perform sex acts on Copp, Winfield said.
"I know these things look bad," Copp said in his opening statement in the cadence of his former religious profession. He said investigators had "tunnel vision," and that anyone could have accessed the computers where child porn was found or the internet connection in the dojo. He said witnesses would provide alibis for him during at least some of the times when computers or the Facebook account were accessed.
Copp has struggled to get that evidence, however. In discussions about Copp's difficulties Wednesday morning, U.S. District Judge Audrey Fleissig reminded him several times that he had years to review the evidence in the case. "These things happen when you decide on the eve of trial to represent yourself," she said.
Copp faces 30 years to life in prison if convicted.
Copp is a former builder with a history of failed financial dealings who was the subject of a 2011 Post-Dispatch report about the expansion of the Southwest Christian Church, near Fenton, and plans for a new school.