John Blanchard, lead pastor of Rock Church International in Virginia Beach, VA, has appeared onstage at the church for the first time in over year, following his arrest in a prostitution sting, which took place in Oct. 2021.
While he did not preach the morning’s sermon, he did announce that he would be pursuing “legal action” in light of the charges brought against him, which were subsequently dropped.
Blanchard was charged with solicitation of prostitution from a minor age 16 or older and using a vehicle to promote prostitution or unlawful sex after being caught in a police operation wherein uncover officers corresponded online with suspects who thought they were speaking with underaged girls.
Blanchard was one of 17 men arrested.
Arrested on a Friday, Blanchard made bail and appeared onstage at his church the following Sunday, only stepping aside from his ministerial responsibilities after his charges became publicly known.
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Blanchard was previously accused of the sexual assault of a former assistant in 2018. The survivor pressed charges, though Blanchard was eventually acquitted in 2019.
In October of this year, roughly a year after Blanchard was first arrested, the charges related to his capture in the sting operation were dropped. However, prosecutors can refile the charges at a later date if they feel they had enough evidence against Blanchard.
When Blanchard’s charges were dropped, Virginia State Delegate Tim Anderson, a politician representing the Virginia Beach area, was quick to point out that Blanchard was far from exonerated.
“Maybe he would or would not be found guilty in a court with reasonable doubt,” Anderson, who is an attorney, said. “But innocent, as in nothing happened, he was never there? No way.”
Anderson went on to say, “In my legal opinion, from what I have seen, there’s no excuse not to prosecute this case. If [Blanchard is] found not guilty or if he’s acquitted, that’s one thing. But to use prosecutorial discretion and say nothing happened here, that’s, in my opinion, an abuse of discretion, especially when they went after 15 other people [following the sting operation].”
“Some kind of a deal was made…between the prosecutor and the defense attorney, to let this case go,” Anderson suspects.
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For their part, Rock Church has maintained Blanchard’s innocence in the matter, and Blanchard has denied knowing that the site he visited featured pornography or that he saw the message from the undercover officer informing him that the girl he was supposedly speaking with was underaged.
“We have always believed in John’s innocence,” said Bishop Anne Gimenez, who has served as interim lead pastor in Blanchard’s absence, in October after the charges against Blanchard were dropped. “He has spent the time in fasting and prayer and has invested much time in his family and education. We anticipate his resumption of church duties in the near future.”
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At the time, Gimenez gave no timetable for Blanchard’s return and did not respond to requests for comment.