Youth pastor allegedly wooed girls with gifts, texts
Three years after a Medford church burglary sparked the seizure of dozens of videos of minors undressing inside his home, a former youth pastor is scheduled to stand trial on child pornography charges in federal court later this month.
A judge denied a motion Tuesday to reschedule Donald Courtney Biggs' Feb. 26 trial, according to filings in U.S. District Court in Medford. Dozens of witnesses will be called to testify against the former Mtn. (Mountain) Church youth pastor in a trial anticipated to last two weeks.
Recent filings by U.S. attorneys provide new details in the case against Biggs, 39, alleging he secretly took videos of minor girls changing at his home during church events and on church trips to California between June 2012 and March 2014. Biggs faces nine counts of using or attempting to use a minor to produce a visual depiction of sexually explicit conduct, and three counts of transportation with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity.
The more than 40 witnesses federal prosecutors intend to call include minors Biggs had been tasked with supervising at church activities, their parents and church employees.
Minors who participated in church activities are anticipated to testify that Biggs often encouraged "messy" activities or pranks that would require kids to change or shower during church activities, and would advise girls to bring a change of clothes, according to prosecutors. At church camps, Biggs allegedly would design "punishments" such as covering a kid in syrup and flour.
Minor girls and minor boys would use different bathrooms, and boys were often ostracized or isolated from the group, court documents allege.
Other witnesses U.S. attorneys have interviewed describe one-on-one meetings between Biggs and minor girls at the church and coffee shops, the documents say. Biggs would pick up minors from school to take them to lunch without parents' knowledge or consent, would give girls back and shoulder rubs, would instruct girls to lie to their parents about where they were going, and would buy them clothes, the documents claim. Biggs allegedly texted some girls several times a day with phrases such as "love you to the moon and back," "You are beautiful," "I love you" and "Missed you last night," according to court documents.
Inappropriate text messages sparked the investigation, according to a document filed Monday.
At the end of November 2014, police first investigated Biggs following a report of inappropriate texts between him and a minor, but police prematurely closed the investigation without reading the messages after the victim's father told police there was nothing wrong.
Police reopened the inquiry Dec. 26, 2014, when the church relayed a letter from a victim's grandparent alleging Biggs used "coercion techniques," saying at different times he'd buy the girl clothing, solicit photographs or tell the girl "she made him sad or made him cry." Biggs allegedly used software to wipe the contents of his phone before submitting the device to a digital forensic search, according to court documents.
When confronted, Biggs allegedly threatened that the church "would go down in flames" if they got him in trouble, according to a church employee prepared to testify. The church placed Biggs on leave by the beginning of January 2015.
Medford police arrested Biggs Jan. 15, three days after he triggered the church's burglary alarm allegedly to steal computer hard drives. During police questioning, prosecutors say, Biggs made admissions that shifted investigators' focus toward recordings.
"Law enforcement was unaware that minors had been secretly recorded until Jan. 15, 2015, after defendant's interview with police and the execution of search warrants," the U.S. attorney's filing says.
Investigators found multiple video files on a MicroSD card, a standard-sized SD card and two hard drives. On the MicroSD card, investigators found 58 files, 28 of which were relevant to the investigation and 16 of which contained minors in stages of undress, according to a document filed Monday by prosecutors. Two internal hard drives recovered from the home contained another 23 videos, of which 14 included nudity. Of the 12 files on the regular SD card, not all victims are identifiable because of poor lighting in the bathroom, according to a police report.
Other equipment seized included a small "button camera," a digital video recorder, an Apple MacBook Pro laptop and other data storage devices, according to an indictment.
— Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @MTCrimeBeat.