Pastor, Eight Others Arrested in Prostitution Sting

By Jeff Raasch, Reporter

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – A senior pastor at a Cedar Rapids church was one of nine men arrested Friday in a prostitution sting.

Rev. Jonathan L. Offt, 41, of Cedar Rapids, the senior pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church, was the first person arrested in the operation conducted by the Marion Police Department and the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, police said. All of the men responded to an advertisement on a website and arranged to meet an undercover female officer who was posing as a prostitute.

Marion police Sgt. Lance Miller said Offt arrived at the meeting place and was arrested when he offered money in exchange for a sex act. Officers in tactical gear performed the arrests.

"After that, he was pretty sullen," Miller said.

Offt's name was removed from the church website Monday afternoon, and Rev. David Miller's title was updated from assistant pastor to pastor. When asked if Offt had resigned, a woman who answered the phone at the church offered the following statement:

"Trinity Lutheran Church and School is saddened by the most recent news story regarding Jonathan Offt. The proper authorities are handling the situation. The church and school request your prayers for all involved. We have no further comments at this time."

Others arrested in the sting were: Daniel Gingerich, 37, of Marengo; Ronald Coleman, 40, of Robins; Joseph Burke, 57, of Cedar Rapids; Michael Romanowski, 67, of Iowa City; Steven Van Nevel, 53, of Brooklyn; Gregory Stroyls, 40, of Marion; Donald Wedewer, 53, of Earlville; and Keith Myers, 50, of Cedar Rapids.

They all face one count of prostitution, an aggravated misdemeanor.

Miller said the arrests were all made during an 8-hour period on Friday. Multiple advertisements were placed on multiple websites. Miller declined to disclose which websites were used and the exact wording of the advertisements.

"They were very sexual in nature," Miller said. "You didn't read this ad and not know. You had to search it out, and once you found it and read it, there was no doubt we were advertising a sexual act."

The men responded by phone, e-mail and text message. Miller said he and DCI agents were surprised at how quickly the men responded to the ads.

"They came very quickly," Miller said. "It was fast, at least initially. We were walking some of them out and there were others coming in."

All of the men were booked at the Marion Police Department and released on a promise to appear in court.

Offt was installed as senior pastor at Trinity Lutheran in 2003. A native of Blairstown, he previously served as a chaplain in clinical pastoral education in St. Louis and Des Moines, as assistant pastor at Our Redeemer Lutheran Church in Iowa City and as chaplain/administrator of the Davenport Lutheran Home, according to Gazette archives. Offt and his wife had one daughter when his installation was announced.

Marion Police Chief Harry Daugherty said internet crimes, including prostitution, solicitation of prostitution and crimes against children are more prevalent than most people think. The criminals don't fit any particular demographic, he said.

"It can be anybody," Daugherty said. "It's not on the profession, it's who they are. You're a little surprised, but this isn't the first, and it won't be the last."

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