Crime

Pastor tried to meet underage girl for sex in Arroyo Grande, police say. Now he’s on trial

Nathan Rieger, 53, right, stands next to defense investigator Robert O’Day during Rieger‚Äôs trial where he is accused of arranging to meet with a minor for a sexual act and meeting with a minor for a sexual act in Arroyo Grande. Rieger was a pastor at Winnipeg Centre Vineyard Church in Winnepeg. Photo by Joe Johnston 12-03-18
Nathan Rieger, 53, right, stands next to defense investigator Robert O’Day during Rieger‚Äôs trial where he is accused of arranging to meet with a minor for a sexual act and meeting with a minor for a sexual act in Arroyo Grande. Rieger was a pastor at Winnipeg Centre Vineyard Church in Winnepeg. Photo by Joe Johnston 12-03-18 jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

A former pastor from Canada is on trial in San Luis Obispo Superior Court, facing allegations he traveled to Arroyo Grande to have sex with a supposed 15-year-old girl he met online.

Nathan Rieger, 53, has pleaded not guilty to a felony count of meeting with a minor for lewd purposes. If convicted, he faces up to four years in state prison, according to court records.

Rieger is accused of engaging in sexually explicit online conversations with an Arroyo Grande police detective, who he believed as a teenage girl. He was arrested Aug. 10 in a parking lot on West Branch Street, where he had allegedly planned to meet the girl.

Rieger was released from San Luis Obispo County Jail in lieu of $25,000 bail after his arrest, according to court records.

According to the Canadian Broadcasting Corp., Rieger worked as a pastor at the Winnipeg Centre Vineyard Church and resigned after he was arrested.

Jury selection for the trial began Monday, and jurors heard opening statements Wednesday.

On Thursday, San Luis Obispo Deputy District Attorney Julie Antos called to the stand James Jolly, an Arroyo Grande police detective who specializes in investigating internet crimes against children.

Jolly described for jurors an online chat he conducted with Rieger under the guise of being a 15-year-old girl over the course of a week in early August. It is unclear from Thursday’s testimony what online platform they were using, but Rieger communicated with Jolly using the name “Anon.”

Jolly testified that, in response to Rieger’s requests, he sent outdoor selfie photos of an unspecified woman and stated repeatedly that his avatar was 15 years old.

Rieger, who stated that he was 37 years old, began the conversation with flattering comments such as “you’re beautiful,” but he soon became more explicit, asking the supposed girl about turn-ons and past sexual encounters, according to testimony.

Jolly described how he carefully maintained the conversation by using vague language and by encouraging Rieger to explain his intentions.

“I’m looking for (him to say) something very black and white that’s difficult to interpret any other way,” Jolly said.

And he allegedly did, saying he wanted to introduce the girl to “new pleasures,” among other extremely graphic comments.

Throughout the conversation, Jolly repeatedly reminded Rieger that his avatar was 15, wasn’t old enough to drink and had to “sneak out” from her grandmother’s house to meet, according to a transcript of the communication displayed for jurors.

Jolly said he worked over several days to encourage Rieger to show that he understood he was suggesting committing a crime.

“My career could be at stake because of your age,” Rieger allegedly wrote. In another comment, Rieger allegedly wrote, “I know (the age of consent) is 18. But I think I still want you.”

According to the transcript, Rieger allegedly told the avatar that he was an “experienced Dom” — or male dominatrix — and that sex is “much nicer without a condom.”

But Rieger was still apprehensive about meeting the supposed girl, writing that he had been “catfished before.” He requested the girl send another photo, this one in which the girl touched her nose to ensure he was talking to a real person.

After Jolly produced the photo, Rieger allegedly wrote: “All of my doubts are gone. ... Let’s do this.”

Testimony resumes Friday.

Matt Fountain: 781-7909, @mattfountain1
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