Denison pastor took plea in federal child porn case

Jerrie Whiteley
Herald Democrat
Former Denison pastor takes a plea in federal child porn case.

A Denison pastor, who was indicted about nine months ago on child exploration charges, has entered into a plea agreement with U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Texas court records show.

The plea agreement and indictment David Alan Pettigrew, who was the pastor at Denison's Church of the Nazarene, entered into in April has remained sealed. Pettigrew's records show he is represented in the case by Federal Public Defender Frank Warren Henderson who did not immediately respond to an email seeking a comment on the plea.

 In addition to being a local pastor, Pettigrew worked as a substitute teacher with the Sherman Independent School District and served as a board member of a Grayson County Foster Parent Association.

Information available on the website for Denison Church of the Nazarene at the time of Pettigrew's arrest said he had been a pastor there since 2006, was ordained as an elder in the Church of the Nazarene in 2004, and had previously served as pastor of the Church of the Nazarene in McCrory, Arkansas. At the time that Pettigrew was indicted, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Texas also said Pettigrew had been indicted along with a Collin County chiropractor named Chad Michael Rider.

The crimes for which the two were charge are often referred to as production of child pornography.

The indictment in Pettigrew's federal file said he was indicted for transportation of child pornography and sexual exploitation of children, and court records show he pleaded guilty to the second charge. 

An indictment is a formal charge and is not evidence of guilt.

The indictment announcement said Pettigrew drew the attention of local law enforcement officials through “referrals sent by two electronic surveillance providers and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.”

It also identified a computer user who uploaded suspected child pornography onto online platforms.

"On August 6, 2020, Homeland Security Investigations agents executed federal search warrants at Pettigrew’s residence and the Denison Church of the Nazarene, after which, agents arrested Pettigrew," the announcement said. "Agents executed a search warrant at Rider’s residence on August 21, 2020. Until recently, Pettigrew had served as pastor of the Denison Church of the Nazarene. Rider is a resident of Anna, Texas.”

A document in Pettigrew's federal court file, called Facts and Findings, sets out what the government said it could prove about Pettigrew:

"David Alan Pettigrew, stipulates and agrees that the following facts are true and correct: 1. The defendant, David Alan Petti rew (Pettigrew), who is changing his plea to guilty, admits that he is the individual charged in the Indictment. 2. As charged in Count Two of the Indictment, between on or about May 1, 2016, and on or about August 19, 2020, in the Eastern District of Texas, Pettigrew knowingly employed, used, persuaded, induced, enticed, or coerced minors, and he conspired or attempted to employ, use, persuade, induce, entice, or coerce minors to engage in sexually explicit conduct for the purpose of creating a visual depiction of such conduct. 3. Specifically, Pettigrew conspired with co-defendant Chad Michael Rider ( Rider ) to surreptitiously record minors, while the minors were nude. ... within the Eastern District of Texas. The videos were filmed using various hidden cameras, including cameras disguised as hooks, clocks, a picture frame, a smoke detector, AC wall adapter, charging blocks, and a pen."

The document said that Pettigrew admitted that he set up a hidden camera in the bathroom of a private residence located within Grayson County and recorded a minor under the age of 14-years old. The camera recorded that child as they undressed and showered, capturing that child's genitals, which were the focus of the video recordings. 

The court document said the child was not aware that the were being a recorded. Pettigrew then saved the recordings, the document said, onto an external hard drive. The document said Pettigrew also admitted that that he conspired with Rider to record minors at the Denison Church of the Nazarene in Grayson County.

"Pettigrew and Rider set up hidden cameras around a room, all of which were positioned to capture the genitals of the minors who came into the room. As part of the conspiracy, Pettigrew and Rider instructed the minors to stand in a plastic wading pool in the middle of the room, undress, and use buckets of water to clean their bodies and hair. The minors were then left alone in the room while Pettigrew and Rider surreptitiously recorded the minors, from multiple cameras, capturing the minors genitals and anuses while they undressed, washed, toweled off, and redressed."

The document said the children preyed upon by Pettigrew and Rider were between the ages of 11 and 14 years old at the time of the recordings. The recordings were made between May 1, 2016 and August 19, 2020. There were five minors who were recorded by the pair.

"Pettigrew admits to knowing that all of the individuals were minors at the time he and Rider surreptitiously recorded them," the document said.

According to court records, Rider has until July 16 to enter a plea in the case and there is a pretrial conference set for his case in August.