All charges against a Virginia megachurch pastor arrested for felony solicitation of prostitution of minors following an online sting operation have been dropped, although they could be refiled at a future date.
John Blanchard, the 51-year-old pastor at the Rock Church International in Virginia Beach, was one of 17 suspects arrested by the Chesterfield County Police Special Victims Detectives as part of an online chatting operation last October. Earlier this month, all charges were dropped against him.
The case against Blanchard is nolle pros, meaning that the charges could be refiled should prosecutors believe they have enough evidence to convict, reported the Norfolk-based 13News Now.
“During the two-day operation, detectives intercepted suspects who believed they were soliciting sex from minors through online and social media platforms,” stated Chesterfield authorities at the time.
“The suspects communicated with people they believed to be underage members of our community and arranged to meet them at a location to have sexual relations. When the suspects came to the location, they were met by police and arrested.”
Blanchard was charged with felony solicitation of prostitution and use of a vehicle to promote prostitution, according to authorities.
For its part, Rock Church posted a statement on Facebook celebrating the dropping of all charges, noting that Blanchard had always denied the allegations against him.
The statement included a quote from Bishop Anne Gimenez, who, along with Blanchard’s wife, Robin, oversaw leading the congregation during the legal proceedings.
“We have always believed in John’s innocence. His humility and submission to those over him during this time has been a testimony to his character,” stated Gimenez. “He has spent the time in fasting and prayer and has invested much of his time in his family and education. We anticipate his resumption of church duties in the near future.”
Jim Booker, a neighbor of Blanchard, told CBS News affiliate WTKR in Norfolk last year that he was surprised by Blanchard’s arrest.
“This is a shock to me because I know him fairly well. He’s never given me any indication over the years that I’ve known him that he would be mixed up in anything like this,” Booker told WTKR.
“I know evil is always present and always trying to take down those who claim Jesus Christ. I’m going to pray for him and be there for him. If he needs someone to talk to, I’m going to be there to talk to him.”
Blanchard, who had become lead pastor of Rock Church in 2013 alongside his wife, voluntarily stepped away from his ministerial duties during the legal proceedings.
In a statement last year, the church stated that it “condemns sexual immorality of any kind and in any form by its members and leaders,” and is “committed to honesty and integrity in dealing with charges or accusations of sexual misconduct or immorality among its leaders and will support any investigation arising from accusations of violation of this standard.”