A California college professor with a background in religious studies is facing federal charges after allegedly trying to arrange sex with a girl he thought was just seven years old—but turned out to be an undercover FBI agent.
University of the Pacific Assoc. Prof. Rod Githens promised to bring the child “her favorite chocolate bar (Hershey’s Dark Chocolate with Almonds) and an Ariel doll,” according to a newly unsealed—and extremely disturbing—criminal complaint, referring to the lead character from The Little Mermaid.
“It’s totally not fantasy for me,” Githens told the undercover agent in a series of shockingly graphic messages. The agent, the complaint says, was posing online as a “‘taboo-friendly’ uncle” in Fresno that had “a 7-year-old niece with whom he was sexually active.”
Githens served as Associate Dean for Academic Programs and Innovation and is now the Alexandra Greene Ottesen Endowed Chair for Leadership & Organization Development at the Methodist-affiliated school, which has campuses in Stockton and Sacramento. He has a PhD and a Master’s in Human Resource Development, and did graduate coursework in religious studies at the Chicago Theological Seminary after graduating from Lincoln Christian College with a BS in Religious Studies.
“Our goal is to help you serve and lead in the church and the world by preparing you for a lifetime of knowing God’s word, engaging God’s world, and pursuing God’s will,” Lincoln’s website tells prospective students.
Githens also runs a consulting practice, which he says helps “people, groups, and organizations bring out their best and attain the results they seek in the world.”
The case against Githens, who was arrested on Friday, began to unfold less than a month ago, according to the complaint.
On March 25, the FBI set up an undercover Grindr profile tagged with keywords such as “dirty,” “discreet,” “curious,” and “parent,” the complaint states. Within an hour, a “Tall laid back” user calling himself “Tod” made contact with the undercover profile, having searched for the tag “Parent,” the complaint says.
Tod said he was 6’ 4”, white, and 44, and that he “loved ‘Taboo,’” the complaint goes on. He was nervous about continuing the conversation on Grindr, so Tod asked the undercover agent if they could take their chat over to Telegram, which is end-to-end encrypted.
Once there, the undercover agent told Tod he “had a 7-year-old niece with whom he was sexually active,” according to the complaint. Tod, who said he worked in “consulting” and that he was married to a 35-year-old man who had been his Spanish tutor, responded that he would “love to have a dad or uncle invite me,” it continues.
Tod said he was “experienced…but need it again,” according to the complaint.
“Honestly I’m not assuming we’ll ever meet,” Tod wrote to the undercover agent, the complaint says. “Guys always flake. Always.”
The next day, “Tod” allegedly told the undercover agent that he “believed kids were ‘property,’ and recounted experiences abusing young children, including a trip to Mexico during which he claimed to have paid $400 to have sex with a 5-year-old boy but got scammed. He also said he “met a man on Grindr and had agreed to meet him in Hawaii and have sexual contact together with his one year-old godson. But due to Covid-19 travel restrictions, the trip never took place,” according to the complaint.
On March 29, the undercover agent asked Tod for a selfie, saying he wanted to ensure he wasn’t being “catfished.” The two discussed plans to meet up in Fresno on April 7, and Tod said he would bring a Hershey bar and Ariel doll for the undercover agent’s supposed niece, the complaint states.
Less than a week after “Tod” first reached out, the FBI had matched Tod’s selfie with Githens’ official California driver’s license photo, and reviewed his faculty bio on the University of the Pacific website, according to the complaint.
But Githens seemed to be wary of being caught up in a sting, and said he wanted to video chat with the undercover agent prior to getting together in person. Still, the conversation continued, and the FBI put Githens’ home under surveillance.
“I read an article about people who lure guys like us and turn them into law enforcement,” Githens allegedly wrote to the agent on April 13. “Not that I think you would do that but they’re like vigilante types. Thats’s [sic] why I’m just trying to be certain about everything.”
“Let me know what you’re thinking,” the undercover agent replied. “I like to lock stuff in and I’m a man of my word. Once I lock something in I stick to it.”
“I appreciate that,” Gittens allegedly responded, according to the complaint. “You seem really serious and I like that. I’m not playing, I swear. I wish there was a way for just you and I to meet up and get to know each other. With no pressure. You’re never up further north?”
Eventually, the two agreed to meet up at a Fresno hotel on April 19, the complaint states, but Githens backed out a day before after he said “some shit hit the fan” at workt.
Instead, FBI agents staking out Githens’ home had local cops send him a text saying some packages that he had reported stolen were available for pickup at the police station, according to the complaint. When Githens got into his car and drove away, West Sacramento police units pulled him over.
Agents say they found numerous chats on Githens’ phone, in which he discussed abusing young children and shared videos of grotesque child abuse including rape. Githens’ husband, to whom he said he had been married for 13 years, told the FBI he was not aware any of this had been going on, the complaint says.
Githens, who was formally arrested on April 21 and charged with receipt and distribution of images of a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct, remains detained pending trial, according to court records. A University of the Pacific spokesman and Githens’ court-appointed lawyer, Christina Sinha, did not respond to The Daily Beast’s requests for comment.
If convicted, Githens faces up to 20 years in prison.