PONCHATOULA — Authorities gathered new evidence from the home of a former pastor accused of leading a church group in “cultlike” rituals involving the sexual abuse of children and animals.
Tangipahoa Parish sheriff’s spokeswoman Laura Covington said Saturday that authorities seized cars belonging to three of the eight arrested suspects in the case and also searched the home of former Hosanna Church pastor Louis Lamonica on Friday night.
“They took a few computers,” Covington said.
Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff Daniel Edwards said that a warrant was issued Saturday for the arrest of a woman believed to be linked to the group accused of sexually abusing children and animals.
Edwards would not release her name, but said the warrant said she faces prosecution in counts of aggravated rape and sexual battery.
Covington identified the woman as Trish Pierson.
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Edward said authorities believe Trish Pierson had been living in Oklahoma, but she’s not there anymore. “She is out of state,” the sheriff said.
If she’s arrested, she will be the ninth person arrested in connection with the alleged child and animal sex ring that may have been active from 1999 to 2003 in a Hosanna Church splinter group.
Covington said Trish Pierson is the wife of Allen R. Pierson, a 46-year-old man who lived in an apartment on the church complex and has been accused of raping a girl who was 9 or 10.
Authorities have said more arrests are possible, and the details of the case have become increasingly graphic.
Edwards said members of a Ponchatoula church carried out the practices for years as part of a devil-worshipping ritual involving cat blood.
“This is hard to talk about and harder to believe, but some of the suspects have told us their intention in all of this was devil worshipping,” Edwards said.
Edwards said earlier in the week that the people involved in the cult reportedly had sex with children and animals from 1999 until the church disbanded in 2003.
The investigation by the Livingston and Tangipahoa Parish sheriff’s offices, the FBI and the Ponchatoula Police Department is continuing, he said.
Beside Lamonica, 45, those arrested include Lamonica’s wife, a sheriff’s deputy and a woman who triggered the investigation with a call from Ohio.
In an interview with The Times-Picayune, Lamonica’s relatives said they could not explain how the son of a preacher, who wanted to be a preacher himself, ended up jailed on charges that one relative called “horrific.” “Obviously there’s a screw loose,” Liz Lamonica Roberts said of her brother. “You can’t be in your right mind.”
Family members said they haven’t spoken with Lamonica since about eight years ago, when they were forced out of the church.
Lamonica’s father, who also went by Louis, built the Hosanna Church in 1975 in an attempt to accommodate a congregation that had grown from 12 to 900. But after the elder Lamonica died, in 1984, his oldest son took over and the congregation began to splinter.
On Thursday, four were arrested.
They are Robbin D. Lamonica, 45, of Holden, booked with one count of aggravated rape; Nicole Bernard, 36, of Columbus, Ohio, booked with one count of aggravated rape of a juvenile under age 13; Paul Fontenot, 21, of Baton Rouge, booked with one count of aggravated rape of a juvenile under age 13; and Lois Ann Mowbray, 54, of Ponchatoula, booked with obstruction of justice, failure to report a felony and accessory after the fact to aggravated rape.
On Wednesday, three were arrested. They are former Tangipahoa Sheriff’s Deputy Christopher Blair Labat, 24, of Hammond, booked with aggravated rape and malfeasance in office; and Allen Pierson, 46, of Hammond, booked with one count of aggravated rape; and Austin Bernard III, 36, of Hammond, booked with aggravated rape.
On Monday, the former minister Louis Lamonica, 45, was the first to be arrested in the case. He was booked with one count of aggravated rape and one count of crimes against nature.
Roberts said she and fellow relatives heard last year that Lamonica had suffered what she referred to as a “nervous breakdown.” Their mother tried then to reach out to him, she recalled, but Lamonica turned her away, even seeking a restraining order.
Now their mother is mourning, “Like it’s a death,” Roberts said.