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Community Shocked by Karate Teacher’s Arrest

John Smith

CLARKS SUMMIT — Investigators in Lackawanna County believe a karate teacher accused of sexually abusing a child may have more victims.

They say he used his martial arts school in Clarks Summit to develop a relationship with his alleged victim.

Serenity Martial Arts on Depot Street in Clarks Summit is closed, and its owner, John Smith of Clarks Summit, is behind bars. He’s accused of sexually abusing a 9-year-old boy who was a student in the school.

Smith was taken to jail on charges of indecent assault, corruption of minors, and endangering the welfare of children Wednesday night.

Police say he’s better known as “Master John,” owner of Serenity Martial Arts, a karate school in the center of Clarks Summit’s business district.

News of Smith’s arrest shocked regulars at Sunrise Cafe a few doors down from the karate school.

“Well, what I think is, a guy in that position, which is a karate instructor, which has a lot of power over who his students are, to me, it’s a lot worse than just a normal person, because he’s got a big advantage,” said Bob Craig of Waverly Township.

It was also a topic of discussion at the spot Smith often stopped for his morning coffee.

“Hopefully, it’s not as serious as it could be, but yeah, it made me sick to my stomach the first thing this morning,” said Bob Michaels of Duffy’s Coffee House. “I’ve seen him, I’ve walked past the karate studio many times, didn’t get a good vibe from it whenever I walked by.”

If you look through the window at Serenity Martial Arts, you’ll see a framed copy of a child abuse history report from the state Department of Human Services.

Investigators say Smith was charged with corruption of minors in 2005. He pleaded guilty and served time but did not have to register as a sex offender.

Smith is now accused of sex crimes against a 9-year-old boy. The child told police Smith would play “truth or dare” with him in a private room at the karate school. Smith would dare the boy to strip naked or be spanked 50 times.

The boy told investigators that “Master John” often hosted movie nights and sleepovers at the studio. Pictures were shared dozens of times on social media.

That’s one of the reasons why the Lackawanna County district attorney is looking for any additional victims.

“Things that experts look at to show a perpetrator or someone building a relationship, building a bond with a victim and some of those things are laid out in here,” said Lackawanna County District Attorney Shane Scanlon.

The district attorney’s office is asking anyone with any additional information to call police.

John Smith was arraigned Wednesday night and is being held on $200,000 bail.

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