Former North Texas Pastor Gets 30 Years for Child Pornography

The Department of Justice says a Denison pastor had secretly filmed children while they undressed.
The Department of Justice says a Denison pastor had secretly filmed children while they undressed. Brian Sevald
Law enforcement had received a worrisome tip. Someone had uploaded online what a pair of electronic service providers and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children believed was child pornography.

When Homeland Security investigators looked into the allegation, they found something even more disturbing: the videos traced back to a pastor’s home and his church in Denison, a little more than an hour north of Dallas.

On Aug. 6, 2020, Homeland Security Investigations and the Grayson County Sheriff’s Office served warrants at then Pastor David Pettigrew’s home and the Denison Church of the Nazarene, where he manned the pulpit, according to a press release published by the U.S. Department of Justice in East Texas on Monday.

While serving the warrants, law enforcement officers found hidden cameras placed in the church. The cameras had been used to record children undressing and bathing. The cameras had been made to look like various items: a smoke detector, a hook, a clock and a picture frame, to name a few. The children, the feds say, were aged between 11 and 14 years at the time they were unknowingly filmed.

Less than two weeks later, a grand jury indicted Pettigrew and his codefendant, Chad Michal Rider, with charges related to child pornography and sexually exploiting children.

"David Pettigrew is a predator who used his position to exploit children for his own gratification." - Nicholas J. Ganjei, acting U.S. Attorney

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In court, Pettigrew admitted that he and Rider had filmed children nude at a slate of locations in Grayson and Collin counties. On Monday, the DOJ said Pettigrew had pleaded guilty in April and had been sentenced to 30 years in prison.

Rider’s case, however, is still pending in the courts.

“David Pettigrew is a predator who used his position to exploit children for his own gratification,” Acting U.S. Attorney Nicholas J. Ganjei said in the release. “Parents and kids in Grayson County trusted Pettigrew as an educator, pastor, and friend, all the while unaware of his criminal intent.”

Ryan L. Spradlin, a Homeland Security Investigations’ special agent in charge in Dallas, described Pettigrew’s actions as “unforgivable and repulsive,” saying the former pastor breached “positions of trust to exploit minors.”

“The actions and the emotional trauma Pettigrew caused to the innocent children he preyed upon is devastating and life-altering,” Spradlin added in the release.

Pettigrew had been working as a pastor since 2006 and has three children, according to CBS DFW.

Also on Monday, a Plano man was sentenced to 260 months in federal prison on child pornography charges, and another man from Irving received a 120-month sentence for charges related to trying to meet a minor for sex
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Patrick Strickland is the news editor at the Dallas Observer. He's a former senior reporter at Al Jazeera English and has reported for the New York Review of Books, The Guardian, Politico EU and The New Republic, among others.