A former youth pastor caught videotaping a 12-year-old girl while she undressed at a Christian music festival has pleaded guilty to child pornography.
Nathan L. Rogers, 39, of East Aurora, New York, pleaded guilty last Wednesday to attempted receipt of child pornography, which carries a minimum sentence of five years in prison and a maximum sentence of 20 years. The charges concerned an incident during Kingdom Bound at Six Flags Darien Lake in 2019, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of New York announced.
At the time of his arrest, Rogers was a youth pastor at Life Church in West Seneca, a suburb of Buffalo.
FBI special agent Randall Garver wrote in an affidavit that the victim told the Genesee County Sheriff’s Office (GCSO) that at the church’s campsite at the park, a large trailer separated the girls’ and boys’ sides of the site. Rogers set his pop-up camper on the girls’ side.
After swimming at the water park, the girl was heading to her tent to change into dry clothes when Rogers invited her to change inside his pop-up trailer, the affidavit stated. There, Rogers reportedly had secretly set up two iPhones to record the girl changing inside the trailer.
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The document said that after changing, the girl discovered an iPhone hidden in clothing on a ledge that had been recording for 13 minutes. She reportedly stopped, deleted the video, and returned the phone to the ledge.
She then discovered a second iPhone recording her hidden in the sheets on the bed, the affidavit stated. She reportedly deleted the video, returned it to the bed, and left the camper.
The victim told a friend what had happened and called her mom, who drove to Darien Lake, picked her up, and called GCSO, the document stated.
Garver wrote that a GSCO officer and investigator responded to the complaint by visiting Rogers’ camper. When they asked Rogers if he knew why they were visiting him, he replied,” I did something really stupid,” Garver added.
The officer reportedly asked what Rogers was referring to, and Rogers said, “I set up a camera while someone was changing in my camper.”
Police further questioned Rogers and arrested him, the document said. the church’s pastor, Peter Jankowski, told GSCO he visited Roger’s camper to talk to him after hearing about the incident.
Jankowski told police that Rogers confessed to filming the 12-year-old and said he needed to step down. “I am not well,” Rogers reportedly told his pastor.
Jankowski said he took and searched both of Roger’s phones. He told GSCO he found previews of videos of the victim in the recently deleted section of each camera roll.
Soon after that, the GCSO officers arrived, the document said.
In the report, Rogers told authorities that Jankowski had both phones at the time of questioning.
Life Church Executive Pastor of Operations Loren Sperrey released a statement to The Roys Report (TRR) that said they were “shocked and devastated” by the incident involving Rogers four years ago.
“Our primary concern was and continues to be the mental and spiritual health of the victim and her family,” the statement said. “We continue to pray, hope, and believe for God-inspired healing and restoration for everyone involved.”
The statement called the victim “brave” and said that the church fully and actively cooperated with State and Federal law enforcement throughout the events.
It added, “The student pastor was confronted and immediately terminated from his employment, being in complete violation of our church policies, which, of course, includes zero-tolerance for such criminal behavior.”
When asked whether it was the first time he had recorded a minor, Rogers reportedly told police, “I am not going to answer that right now.” Rogers voiced that he thought about killing himself when he realized the victim had discovered the videos, the affidavit said.
The document also listed internet searches on Rogers’ phones related to sexual images of minors. Of the 24,017 picture files and 2,389 video files on Rogers’ phone, some were considered child pornography, an earlier release from the Western District of New York said.
Gaver said the victim later told authorities that after she left the trailer, Rogers told her he was not the person he wished he was. Rogers also reportedly urged the victim to talk to him or to a leader “if there’s anything that I did.”
The victim reportedly told police that Rogers looked very worried while she was on the phone with her mother.
In December 2020, Rogers was sentenced to six months in jail and five years of probation on state charges of unlawful surveillance. In 2021, he was charged federally with additional charges of production of child pornography related to the same incident.
In July 2020, the victim’s mother sued Rogers and Life Church for punitive damages. Erie Supreme Court records show the case is still active.
On September 11, Rogers pleaded guilty to one count of superseding information for attempted receipt of child pornography.
Authorities will determine Rogers’ sentencing on December 13, 2023.