Special prosecutor appointed in megachurch pastor’s prostitution case as new emails emerge
A special prosecutor has been appointed in the case against John Blanchard, pastor of Rock Church International in Virginia Beach, who previously saw charges against him dismissed by prosecutors a year after his 2021 arrest during an undercover child sex crimes sting.
This move comes after the Chesterfield County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office in Virginia decided to unseal documents in the case after emails emerged shedding new light on the reason for dropping the charges in 2022 and revealed previously unknown evidence, according to media reports.
William Blaine Jr. is the special prosecutor to review the case, NBC's Richmond affiliate WWBT reported.
Republican state Delegate Tim Anderson, who represents the Virginia Beach area where Rock Church Internation is located, obtained emails through a Freedom of Information Act request with Chesterfield Police that revealed why Blanchard's case was treated differently from others arrested for soliciting prostitution from a minor, according to News 6 in Richmond.
Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Alexander Michev said charges against Blanchard were dismissed after Commonwealth's Attorney Stacey Davenport reached a deal with the pastor's defense attorney Noel Brooks. The deal was that "Blanchard would agree to a psychosexual evaluation and sex offender related counseling."
Chesterfield Police Chief Jeffrey Katz wrote in a public statement released Jan. 17 on Facebook that the dismissal of charges against the megachurch pastor was not “due to a lack of evidence or a substandard investigation.”
"Despite numerous convictions on cases with similar — and in some cases less compelling evidence — we have not been given any guidance as to where this investigation fell short of prosecutorial expectations," Katz added. "Moreover, the public has not been provided an explanation. As I have shared with our Commonwealth’s Attorney, I believe a public articulation of her rationale is warranted."
In an email he sent to Davenport, Katz described the evidence as a video obtained through a search warrant that “incontrovertibly validates police assertions that Blanchard knowingly sought to engage in sex with an underage girl in a Chesterfield County hotel room on the day of the arrest,” according to WTVR.
“While this new [evidence] doesn’t change a single word uttered or activities undertaken by anyone on the day of our investigation, it incontrovertibly validates our assertions that Blanchard knowingly sought to engage in sex with an underage girl in a Chesterfield County hotel room on the day of his arrest,” Katz wrote to Davenport cited by Church Leaders.
"Since children cannot rent hotel rooms, it is reasonable to conclude that Blanchard was, at minimum, indifferent to the reality that the person with whom he had been texting was not a prostitute but rather a child victim of human sex trafficking. A felony."
Blanchard was among 17 men accused of solicitation of prostitution after an online sting operation by police on Oct. 29, 2021. The married father of two was charged with solicitation of prostitution of a minor and use of a vehicle to promote prostitution, which are felonies. He was arrested at a hotel where he was supposed to meet a detective posing as a 17-year-old girl.
After almost a year of legal maneuvering, the charges against Blanchard were withdrawn or nolle prossed ahead of a criminal trial in October. A case that is nolle prossed means prosecutors could potentially bring those charges again.
A report from the Chesterfield County Police Department said Davenport cited a “lack of evidence” in not moving forward with the case against Blanchard, WRIC reported at the time.
Last month, Katz spoke publicly about the case after Blanchard’s attorney filed a motion to “seal all police or court records, transcripts, and investigative records associated with this case” and “has decided to consent to render these records unavailable to the public, which — upon approval by a judge — would make sharing of these transcripts, the report, or any other documents, previously released under FOIA a crime.”
Katz called the move "bewildering," mainly because his investigators have presented cases with less compelling evidence that led to a conviction.
"When someone: 1. Rents a car, 2. Texts a phone number posted on a known sex worker website, 3. Solicits a 'qv' ('John' lingo for a 'quick visit'), 4. Makes multiple inquiries if the person he's texting is 'affiliated with law enforcement,' 5. Drives two and a half hours to a hotel and knocks on the hotel room door — as directed by our undercover '17-year-old,' I believe a jury of Chesterfield County residents deserves to weigh in on the matter of criminal culpability," he wrote in the post on Facebook.