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ST. LOUIS – Dojo Pizza was heralded as a place where kids could learn karate and supposedly earn some spending money while escaping outside temptations and dangers. Parents believed the pizzeria’s founder, a pastor, had children’s best interests at heart. But their trust was betrayed.

The karate instructor and founder, Loren Copp, had a history of bad business dealings; but his terrible crimes led to his conviction in Dec. 2018. It was the culmination of a years-long investigation into his behavior following multiple raids on his business.

In Oct. 2015, St. Louis police responded to Dojo Pizza on Morganford Road after receiving calls that Copp was contributing to the delinquency of a minor and endangering the welfare of a child because he was allegedly making children work at the pizzeria for little or no pay.

Dojo Pizza was a combination restaurant and martial arts studio that operated as a non-profit to support free karate classes. Copp lived at the building with underage girls who were not his own. The children were staying with him because their parents were either incarcerated or homeless.

Copp told FOX 2 police said his building was not up to code and he had an unsecured handgun in the presence of children.

Dojo Pizza on Morganford Road in the Bevo neighborhood.

At the time, he denied the raid had anything to do with inappropriate contact with minors.

“There is no human trafficking. There is no sex trafficking of children. I have not been charged with anything along those lines,” Copp said.

The case was then turned over to the St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s Office.

The following month, local police were joined by FBI and Homeland Security agents, as well as animal control authorities, in a second raid of the pizzeria. Federal officers could be seen carrying several items from the building for unspecified “law enforcement purposes,” but would not comment any further.

As suspicions surrounding Copp’s conduct deepened, the public became aware of a past filled with lawsuits, bankruptcy, and allegations of fraud from Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri. According to our news partners at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Copp left a Fenton congregation in the lurch after a planned $2 million expansion to their church failed.

Between the raids, investigators had been speaking with girls who studied and worked at Dojo Pizza, some of whom spoke of horrifying experiences with Copp. After a third girl came forward, authorities conducted their second raid. Police said they discovered child pornography on Copp’s computers during the raid. The images and videos showed girls who lived with Copp.

In April 2016, Copp was taken into custody and charged with several counts of child sexual exploitation and enticement involving a minor.

Copp rejected a plea deal and elected to represent himself at trial, which began in Dec. 2018. During the trial, prosecutors said Copp used fake Facebook and email accounts to communicate with his victims, saying he groomed two of his victims over several years before raping them. He also convinced other girls to send him sexually explicit photos.

A federal judge found Copp guilty of eight counts of child sexual exploitation and enticement involving four victims and sentenced him to 65 years in prison. He filed an appeal in 2021, claiming prosecutors had the photos of a different man committing the crimes. That appeal was rejected.