The Pope's Long Con

Louisville Public Media

In 2016, Danny Ray Johnson was elected to state office. The fast talking biker-preacher known as "The Pope" paints himself as a 9/11 hero. He says he raised the dead! But our seven month investigation uncovered a much different picture: Attempted arson. Another mysterious fire. Alleged bootlegging and molestation in the church. For years, Johnson broke laws. Now he helps make them. What happens when the institutions we rely on look the other way? How does a liar slip through the cracks into a position of power? This six-part series attempts to find out.

  • 25 minutes 38 seconds
    Check Out Our New Investigative Podcast, Dig
    From the newsroom that brought you the Pope’s Long Con, check out our newest podcast, Dig. In the first season, we bring you the results of a yearlong look at how rape cases are investigated in Louisville. What we’ve learned: here, the police defer to prosecutors on rape cases — and prosecutors reject the vast majority of cases presented to them. Due to this unusual relationship, most people accused of rape here will never face consequences. Most won’t be arrested or convicted. And the case will be closed anyway. (Note: There are descriptions of a rape, and audio from a police body camera on the scene of a rape investigation, throughout this episode.) For more, visit
    19 December 2019, 1:07 pm
  • 16 minutes 25 seconds
    The Pope's Wife

    We knew the story wasn't over at the end of the last chapter — but no one could've known what would happen next. +

    5 March 2018, 12:00 pm
  • 16 minutes 33 seconds
    When Our Institutions Fail

    Over and over, there were warning signs for law enforcement, political leaders and others. What happens when the institutions we rely on look the other way? How does a liar slip through the cracks into a position of power?

    14 December 2017, 10:08 pm
  • 15 minutes 50 seconds
    An Accusation Of Molestation

    A teenage girl thought of Johnson as a second dad. Her family trusted the pastor. But in 2013, he allegedly molested her. Hear her story. And listen to Johnson's extraordinary response.

    14 December 2017, 10:07 pm
  • 19 minutes
    An Empire Built On Blind Faith

    Go inside the Heart of Fire Church and meet the motorcycle-friendly congregation and gun choir. Check out the fellowship hall — or biker bar — and learn more about Johnson's dark past.

    14 December 2017, 10:06 pm
  • 23 minutes 29 seconds
    From Bastrop To Bullitt

    Like Forrest Gump, he just so happens to be in the front row, playing a pivotal role in America’s biggest moments. Time after time. Decade after decade. He's held some of the country's loftiest titles. Or not.

    13 December 2017, 7:01 am
  • 17 minutes 32 seconds
    Welcome To The Pope's House

    Meet Danny Ray Johnson, Kentucky's fast-talking preacher-turned-politician who is known as the Pope. He paints himself as a 9/11 hero, healer of the sick and miracle maker. Behind this persona — cultivated, built up and fine-tuned over decades — is a web of lies and deception. A mysterious fire. Attempted arson and false testimony. Alleged molestation in his church.

    13 December 2017, 7:00 am
  • 56 seconds
    Introducing The Pope's Long Con

    What happens when the institutions we depend on fail at every level? What happens when lies go unchecked? From the pulpit to the statehouse, one man claims to serve his fellow man. But does he? Find out in this series from the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting and Louisville Public Media.

    29 November 2017, 7:56 pm
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