Crime & Courts

Youth pastor says he had sex with 15-year-old. Her relative recorded admission.

Listen to recorded conversations about church sex crime defendant

A recorded conversation with a relative of a teen that former Word of Life youth pastor Chauncey Walker allegedly had sex with. Another conversation is with Robert Rotola Sr., Word of Life senior pastor, speaking with the alleged victim.
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A recorded conversation with a relative of a teen that former Word of Life youth pastor Chauncey Walker allegedly had sex with. Another conversation is with Robert Rotola Sr., Word of Life senior pastor, speaking with the alleged victim.

A former Wichita youth pastor — in jail and facing trial on sex-crime charges involving a 15-year-old church member — admitted during a recorded phone conversation to having sex with her.

“She was 15 when it started, and it progressed from there,” former Word of Life youth pastor Chauncey Walker says in the recording. He had sex with the girl the first time at Ground Zero, the Word of Life youth facility, he said. According to the charges, it happened about five years ago.

Once the allegations surfaced, he conceded, he wasn’t honest at first about her age “because, I’ll just be honest — I didn’t want to go to jail.”

An adult relative of the teen recorded his conversation with Walker on Aug. 9 or Aug. 10 and reported it to police before Walker’s arrest in August, says an attorney representing the alleged victim. The attorney provided The Eagle with the recordings and identified the voices.

Walker's attorney, Quentin Pittman, said Friday that his only comment is "We are cooperating with authorities."

In a separate phone conversation around the same time, also before the arrest, the alleged victim told the senior pastor at Word of Life Church, Robert Rotola Sr., that she was offended because she felt he was protecting Walker.

In the recording with the alleged victim, Rotola denied he was taking Walker’s side, adding: “Yeah, it’s a scumbag move (a youth pastor having sex with a girl), and people can’t be in the ministry that do that. But he removed himself before (inaudible) a chance to do that. I don’t know what else to do.”

Rotola told her that if her relative reported it to police, he wanted a “heads-up” so he could alert his staff and be prepared for media questions. The alleged victim said several times during the conversation that she was not going to report it.

Neither Walker nor Rotola knew that the conversations were being recorded. Under Kansas law, only one party needs to consent to recording a conversation.

The senior pastor never conveyed a desire to report the allegations, and “the only involvement he had was try to cover it up,” says Jonathan McConnell, an attorney for the alleged victim.

The attorney for Word of Life Ministries, Ross Hollander, gave this statement Friday: "My clients prefer to plead the details of their case to a jury rather than to the media. They acknowledge that the lawsuit alleges tragic conduct. They place their faith in the legal process where they can present their side of the case." In a court document, they have denied allegations that they are at fault.

The alleged victim is suing Word of Life Ministries and Schools Inc., Rotola Sr. and his son, church school administrator Robert Rotola Jr.

She is seeking damages of more than $575,000.

The alleged victim and her family attended the church; at one point, she went to Life Preparatory Academy, a school run by Word of Life.

More victims?

An amended lawsuit petition, filed March 19, raises the question of whether there could be more victims.

The court document laying out the allegations in the lawsuit says that after a woman who was hosting foreign exchange students reported that an exchange student at the Word of Life school received inappropriate text messages from Walker, Rotola Jr. said he would “take care of the situation.” When the host mother later found journal entries by the student about inappropriate relations with Walker and showed the journal to Rotola Jr. and Rotola Sr., the older Rotola took the journal and removed the foreign exchange student from the home, the lawsuit says.

Rotola Sr. “threatened to remove the host mother’s other foreign exchange student if (she) continued to push the matter,” it says.

Word of Life lists several campuses and a main address at 3811 N. Meridian. It employed Walker as youth pastor at Ground Zero, where he led activities for young teens, the lawsuit says. He also served as the girls soccer coach at the Word of Life school.

The recording of Walker is part of the criminal case against him, McConnell said. Walker, 48, has remained in jail since August after being charged with aggravated indecent liberties and two counts of criminal sodomy. He faces a trial on April 9.

The alleged crimes for which Walker is charged occurred between May 2012 and May 2013, the criminal complaint says. The girl was 15 at the time. She’s 20 now.

McConnell said that both recordings will become part of the lawsuit that the woman filed in March.

The lawsuit alleges that Walker used his youth pastor position to sexually abuse the teen and that the church and the Rotolas neglected to supervise Walker, failed to fully investigate concerns about him and tried to cover up the allegations.

The Eagle does not name victims of sex crimes without their permission.

Youth pastor on tape

Both recordings were made around the same time in August. The adult relative of the alleged victim spent 44 minutes questioning Walker about what happened between him and the teen.

About 90 seconds into the conversation, Walker said: “She was 15 when it started, and it progressed from there. ... It happened at Ground Zero. … It was spontaneous.”

The youth pastor was in his 40s at the time.

Days before they first had sex, he said, they had a first kiss in her bedroom. They were talking about “normal stuff.” It was not counseling. They held hands, then kissed.

Walker, who had a wife and children, said he told the teen he had to leave and went home.

A couple of days or a week later, he said, she texted or called him “and wanted something to do.” They went to Ground Zero to paint walls. “And one thing led to another, and then we kissed again, and then it turned sexual.” Walker denied that he was intending to have sex with the girl.

About 16 minutes into the conversation, Walker said: “I’m trusting that you’re … not recording and writing stuff down to use against me. Again, I’m just telling you honest.”

Walker talked on: “Because again, I’m going to be honest, bro, I was scared, OK? ... I was very scared of losing my family. I was very scared of getting in trouble. I was very scared of losing my job and my position, which turned out, I lost both of those.

“I tried to be honest with my wife except for the details of the age.”

Teen’s relative: “Why was the age a big factor in all this?”

Walker: “I think the age was a big factor because, I’ll just be honest — I didn’t want to go to jail.”

The teen’s relative also took issue with “Pastor Rob” — Rotola Sr. — saying that the senior pastor was “looking out for” Walker because they had been longtime friends and because Walker was his employee.

The relative said that the senior pastor made clear his stance “by basically almost giving us threats … trying to use those scare tactics, saying that, 'Oh, the media will find out about it. She (the alleged victim) will be shamed for the rest of her life. Her family will shame her. Everyone will shame her.'

“Why would someone do that in their right mind, saying that victims (are) going to be shamed for the rest of their life? Why would a pastor do that?”

And Walker replied: “I don’t know. I didn’t tell him to do that.”

Pressed if there were other teens he was wrongly involved with, Walker said, “There’s only been one.”

The relative asked again about the senior pastor’s reaction to the trouble: “Why do you think he’s trying to cover up everything?”

And Walker replied: “I think probably because he doesn’t want it to look bad on the church, and he doesn’t want the church to be reflected in a bad light.”

Senior pastor on tape

That recorded conversation between the teen’s relative and Walker occurred shortly after one between the alleged victim and Rotola Sr., the senior pastor.

Rotola Sr. noted the relative would report the allegations to police. "I told him if you’re going to do that, please give me a heads up. Because when you report it, a whole bunch of media … will pick up on it, and they’ll start asking everybody questions. … Just give me a heads up so I can kind of warn my staff that it’s coming." Later he added: “It will go citywide … and turn into a circus."

The senior pastor told her that he cared about her, said he was sorry that it had happened to her and offered to pay for counseling.

He also said: "Chauncey (Walker) didn't confess it to me."

She told him: “I personally don’t give a (expletive) about what anybody thinks about me because I’m my own person. It’s not shameful to me. Yeah, it’s embarrassing. But it’s not like I did something horrible.”

He said that all he meant by “shame” was that people would be texting, emailing and talking about it.

She told him she called him only because “I was offended that you decided to take his side in a thing like this, with the power that you have and the place that you hold within a church and that way that you ministered to me my entire life.”

The senior pastor responded: “He quit before he could be fired. He kind of took himself out. … He did the right thing. He quit the ministry. He quit the school.”