MI Ex-Hockey Coach to Stand Trial on Sex Charges

Thursday July 30, 2009

MI ex-hockey coach to stand trial on sex charges

ED WHITE Associated Press Writer

TAYLOR, Mich. (AP) - A judge ordered a hall-of-fame prep hockey coach to stand trial Thursday on charges of sexual assault after a young man said he was 14 and 15 when he was paid $150 to have oral sex at the ex-coach's suburban Detroit home.

There is no dispute that the sex acts occurred, but Robert Bopp's attorney argued that his client didn't know the alleged victim was a minor at the time. The judge, however, said that's no defense.

The legal burden was on Bopp to determine the boy's age, 23rd District Court Judge William Sutherland said after hearing a few hours of testimony.

Bopp, 51, was fired as coach at Grosse Pointe South High School after he was charged in June. He led the Blue Devils to a state championship game in 2007 and is a member of the hall of fame for Michigan prep hockey coaches.

Authorities have urged young people to step forward if they have similar allegations of sexual misconduct but no one has contacted police in Taylor, where Bopp lives, Assistant Prosecutor Lora Weingarden told The Associated Press.

Separately, the FBI has said it seized photos from Bopp's home showing him having sex with minors. The government made the disclosure a few weeks ago when it filed a lawsuit to seize his home because it was used to exploit children. No federal charges have been filed relating to those photos. Bopp's attorney, Christopher Andreoff, has said he'll respond to those allegations in court.

"The FBI is still going through what they seized. They've only gotten through 25 percent. The investigation is ongoing," Weingarden told the judge when Andreoff asked that Bopp be released from jail on bond.

Weingarden presented one witness, the alleged victim, who is now 17. He testified that he was 14 and 15 when he twice had oral sex with Bopp. He was not a hockey player and doesn't live in Grosse Pointe or Taylor.

He said he agreed to the sex acts and to be photographed because he wanted $150 to feed his drug habit. The young man said he was introduced to Bopp - he knew him as "Justin" - through an acquaintance, James McBee.

He said he and McBee, now 20, engaged in sex acts in Bopp's presence. McBee was also ordered to stand trial on sexual-assault charges.

"The proof of guilt is great," Weingarden told the judge, referring to pictures that were part of the evidence.

Andreoff and McBee's lawyer, John Freeman, tried to cast doubt on the young man's story, especially whether he had said he was 17 when he was at Bopp's house. The alleged victim acknowledged that he abused heroin and probably has made conflicting statements to police. The Associated Press does not identify alleged sexual assault victims.

"There is no evidence in the record that (Bopp) knew he was under 17," Andreoff insisted.

But the prosecutor, noting Bopp's background as a hockey coach, dismissed the argument.

"Mr. Bopp is better than anyone else in assessing the age of a teenage boy," she told the judge.

Bopp and McBee remain in the Wayne County jail.