Dojo Pizza's Loren Copp Should Spend Life in Prison, Feds Say

click to enlarge Former Dojo Pizza owner Loren Copp is scheduled to be sentenced on December 17. - STEVE TRUESDELL
Former Dojo Pizza owner Loren Copp is scheduled to be sentenced on December 17.

Update, 4:19 p.m. —  In an order filed today, a judge granted Loren Copp's request to delay his sentencing. Instead, there will be a hearing instead at 2 p.m. on his request to subpoena experts and his claim that the government is delaying his mail at the jail. The original story continues below:

The former owner of Dojo Pizza took "sick joy and pleasure" from controlling the underage girls he sexually abused, federal prosecutors say as they make the case for locking him away forever.

Loren Copp, the karate instructor and ex-pastor who ran the south city eatery out of a converted church, was convicted a year ago of eight federal felonies related to child pornography and using interstate facilities to coerce a minor into sexual activity. After a series of delays, he is scheduled to be sentenced on Tuesday.

Prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney's Office have asked U.S. District Judge Audrey Fleissig to send him away for essentially a life sentence — 160 years in prison.

"Copp’s actions have gone well beyond the possession of child pornography and exhibit a level of depravity that defies comprehension," Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Winfield argues in court papers.

Copp used to live in the old church in the Bevo Mill neighborhood with a handful of underage girls — the number shifting as some girls came and went. He operated the building as a community hub, running a school of questionable legitimacy for a while, teaching karate in a lower-level gym and hosting events in the de-commissioned sanctuary. He turned the church kitchen into a martial arts-themed pizzeria, where the girls waited on tables while dressed in karate uniforms.

Copp portrayed the operation as a big-hearted nonprofit, taking in kids with nowhere else to go. But behind the campy facade, authorities say, he orchestrated a complex, multi-faceted campaign of abuse against multiple underage victims. Prosecutors say he groomed girls who came to stay with him when their mothers went to jail or otherwise couldn't care for them. He routinely raped two of his victims and also created fake online identities to further manipulate and abuse them.

One of the fake identities, purportedly a thirteen-year-old girl named "Chrissy" from China, befriended his victims through social media and persuaded them to send nude photos and participate in sexualized acts. He also created a fake school resource officer, sending his victims emails that threatened them if they didn't submit to sex acts with Copp, prosecutors say.

Investigators later traced both accounts to an IP address assigned to the church. Often, Copp was just down the hall on a computer in his bedroom, messaging the young teens, investigators testified.

Federal agents leave Dojo Pizza on November 12, 2015 after one of several raids on the former Bevo Mill church. - Doyle Murphy
Doyle Murphy
Federal agents leave Dojo Pizza on November 12, 2015 after one of several raids on the former Bevo Mill church.

Following a tip from a confidential source, police and building inspectors raided the church in 2015. The FBI followed up with a series of searches, carting away computers that would later reveal caches of child porn, including images of the girls who stayed with Copp at Dojo Pizza. Some of the pictures appeared to have come from a hidden camera in the living quarter's shower.

The case was the subject of a Riverfront Times cover story in December 2015.

Copp was arrested in 2016 on federal charges and eventually represented himself at trial after dismissing his attorneys. The move allowed him to question his victims directly, and he did so at length. Prosecutors allege it was one more way for Copp to exert control over the girls, including two who had lived with him for years.

Copp continues to claim that he is the victim of a complicated conspiracy in which child porn was implanted on his computers, possibly by police, to frame him. He has filed one handwritten motion after another, including a request last week for a new trial, claiming he has new evidence that proves he was not operating the Chrissy account during one of the times prosecutors say he was.

Prosecutors, however, have pointed to photos that show not only backgrounds from the church, but also the house where Copp lived with the girls before his now ex-wife walked in on him in bed with one of the girls and contacted authorities. The girls corroborated the images, identifying themselves and describing the abuse during excruciating testimony in April 2018.

Copp had opted for a bench trial, leaving the case in the hands of Fleissig rather than a jury. The judge ultimately believed the girls over Copp, finding him guilty of eight of the nine counts in the indictment.

He remains in custody at St. Charles County jail.

We welcome tips and feedback. Email the author at [email protected] or follow on Twitter at @DoyleMurphy.

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