Ponchatoula church cult cited in child rape, animal sex case

HAMMOND — Authorities arrested a Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff’s deputy and a self-proclaimed minister Tuesday as part of a six-week investigation into the alleged cult-like practices of a Ponchatoula church that included having sex with children and animals, Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff Daniel Edwards said Wednesday.

Deputies also arrested a third man early Wednesday morning for aggravated rape of a juvenile and seized computers and a carpet sample at the church Tuesday night, Edwards said.

Investigators believe a splinter group of the Hosanna Church in Ponchatoula formed a cult whose practices included having sex with children and animals from 1999 until the church disbanded in 2003, Edwards said.

Five victims have been interviewed so far, and investigators believe there are more potential victims. The victims range in age from infants to teens and include boys and girls, Edwards said.

Edwards said some cult members are parents of the victims. The parents either knew about the alleged abuse or harmed their own children, he said.

He said the animal victims are cats and dogs.

Edwards said that the minister is likely the leader of the group, but investigators have not confirmed that yet.

The alleged acts also don’t appear to be a part of the regular worship of the church and took place in classrooms on the church property and not in the sanctuary, he said.

Not all members of the church knew about the alleged sexual acts, Edwards said.

Authorities searched the church Tuesday night and turned the two computers and the carpet sample over to the State Police Crime Lab, Edwards said. The lab is checking the computers for evidence of child pornography.

Two of the men in custody and the victims have told investigators some sexual acts were recorded, Edwards said.

The investigation began six weeks ago when a woman in Columbus, Ohio, contacted Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff’s authorities about sexual misconduct involving her child. The woman told deputies she fled Louisiana several months ago to protect her child after finding out about the sexual acts of some members of the Hosanna Church.

The woman waited until a week ago to provide detailed accounts of the alleged crimes and told deputies the FBI had requested she postpone talking to them, Edwards said. The FBI is involved because the crimes potentially include child pornography, Edwards said.

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In the meantime, Louis Lamonica, 45, of Holden, surrendered to Livingston Parish sheriff’s deputies Monday. Lamonica is the former minister of the Hosanna Church and confessed to having sex with children and animals. Labat was booked into the Livingston Parish jail on two counts of aggravated rape and one count of crime against nature.

Authorities in Tangipahoa Parish arrested Tangipahoa Parish sheriff’s deputy Christopher Blair Labat, 24, of Lumino Lane, Hammond, on Tuesday afternoon on counts of aggravated rape and malfeasance in office.

Labat, a patrol deputy hired in January 2004, was fired from his job the same day of his arrest, Edwards said. Authorities included the malfeasance count because as a sworn officer, Labat should have reported the alleged crimes, Edwards said.

Labat is isolated and on suicide watch in the Tangipahoa Parish jail as a precaution, Edwards said.

The third suspect, Austin Aaron Bernard III, 36, of Southwest Railroad Ave., was arrested early Wednesday morning and confessed to having sex with a juvenile under age 13 around November 2002, deputies said.

He was booked into the parish jail on aggravated rape.

Additional arrests and counts against the men are expected in the coming weeks, Edwards said.

The investigation involves multiple agencies, including the Tangipahoa and Livingston parish sheriffs, the Ponchatoula Police Department and the FBI.

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Source

(Listed if other than Religion News Blog)
The Advocate, USA
May 19, 2005
Debra Lemoine, Advocate Staff Writer
2theadvocate.com

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This post was last updated: Monday, November 30, -0001 at 12:00 AM, Central European Time (CET)