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A Weber County youth pastor has been arrested and booked on suspicion of nine counts of rape after a three-month investigation into his relationship with a teenage girl from his flock.
Roy Police Chief Greg Whinham said Wednesday that Aaron Witcher, also known locally as rapper "Pastor Soulja," allegedly began having sex with the then-15-year-old girl sometime this past summer. The investigation began in early August, after a Roy police officer found the two in a parked car and became suspicious.
"He was found with the victim sitting in a car in a parking lot. The officer made contact, established who they said they were that this was supposed to be an association of a pastor with a 'troubled teen' issue," Whinham said. "Still, the situation gave the officer enough concern that it was passed on to our investigation division to do a follow-up."
Whinham did not reveal specifics for the officer's suspicions but said a subsequent investigation produced admissions by the pair that their relationship was sexual.
"[Other] disclosures led to a search warrant being served on [Witcher's] home Nov. 4 for computers and computer files," Whinham said.
He would not say specifically that investigators were looking for child pornography, but the chief did confirm that, "Everything we seized went to the FBI's Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force lab."
Whinham balked at describing the relationship between Witcher and the girl as consensual. "When you are dealing with a predator a pastor, a teacher or a policeman for that matter and you are 15, you are going to be a victim," he said. "Was [the sex] forced? No. Was it [allegedly] manipulative? Yes."
Witcher, 38, remained Wednesday in Weber County Jail in lieu of $180,000 bond.
Detectives also are looking into Witcher's past pastoral assignments at New Pilgrim Baptist Church in south Salt Lake County and more recently the Genesis Project church in Ogden. Investigators say Witcher had been asked to leave Genesis.
In September, Witcher moved to Roy to begin his Crosswalk Christian Training Center. "The victim in this case was associated with him prior, while he was at Genesis," Whinham said.
The investigation is moving beyond Witcher's activities in Roy, however. "We're still trying to fill in the blanks, but what we are seeing is a pattern of him putting himself in a position of trust around young people wherever he's been," the chief said.
Genesis Pastor Matt Roberts confirmed that "we severed our relationship with Aaron about five months ago ... for behavior that was not becoming of a minister." Roberts declined to specify what led to the termination, but emphasized "the behavior was not of a sexual nature."
He said he first learned of the sexual aspect of allegations against Witcher on Tuesday, and that they involved the girl, who was among about a dozen people who had left the congregation of 1,000 with Witcher when he was let go.
"We are fully cooperating with police," he said.
Pastor Corey Hodges of New Pilgrim said Witcher had left voluntarily in 2006. "He told us he was going to pursue other ministry opportunities. His leaving had nothing to do with anything sexual," Hodges said.
Hodges who writes a religion column for The Salt Lake Tribune also stressed that Witcher was not a youth pastor during his time at New Pilgrim, but instead was assigned to more general duties of "evangelism and outreach."
Roy police are asking that anyone with information concerning Witcher call 801-774-1063.