Cult leader accused of drowning woman to collect her $2million life insurance policy 'told CHILD to lie about victim's death'

Mail, UK/May 29, 2012

Suspected Kansas cult leader Daniel Perez accused of killing a woman in 2003 allegedly instructed a child to lie to police that the young mother accidentally drowned in the pool trying to rescue her two-year-old daughter.

The revelation came out during a preliminary hearing for 52-year-old Perez, with prosecutors saying that the girl is now prepared to testify that the cult leader directed her to tell 'a false story' about how Patricia Hughes died.

Prosecutors must show the judge enough evidence to justify a trial on premeditated first-degree murder and about 40 other charges.

During Tuesday's hearing, the prosecution portrayed Perez as a domineering commune leader who got group members and friends alike to do his bidding, sometimes with threats of violence.

Perez was known for years as Lou Castro, a false identity he assumed after fleeing Texas following his conviction on child sex charges.

In addition to the murder charge, he now also faces multiple counts of lying on life insurance applications, rape, sodomy, criminal threat, making false statements on auto credit applications and sexual exploitation of a child.

This week's court proceedings offered the first public glimpse into the state's case against the leader of a Valley Center commune whose members are accused of living lavishly off millions of dollars in life insurance payouts from dead commune members.

Retired insurance salesman Bill Hatton testified that he wrote five policies for group members, including a $2million one on Hughes. Perez directed the amounts and beneficiaries of all the policies, even though he was not listed on them, Hatton said.

The insurance salesman said Perez told him that the group members had formed a family bond.

Hughes' parents have alleged in court documents that the group is linked to other suspicious deaths.

Among those other deaths: a 2001 plane crash in South Dakota that killed a group member, her 12-year-old daughter and her boyfriend; a 2006 accident in which Hughes' husband was killed when a car jack failed and the car he was working on crushed him in South Dakota; and a 2008 traffic accident that killed another group member who had legal custody of Hughes' orphaned daughter.

The Wichita Eagle has reported that Perez was arrested in 2010 in Nashville, Tennessee, on a federal identity theft charge, and served his federal sentence before being transferred to Kansas in January to face state charges.

His daughter, Windy Aleman, said earlier this year that Hughes helped her father flee Texas before his 1997 sentencing on child sex charges. She does not believe he would have hurt the woman who took a major risk by hiding him.

During the years Perez was on the run, Aleman said Hughes would periodically come to pick her up and take her to Corpus Christi, Texas, to secretly visit her father.

She said Hughes even helped bring the U.S.-born Perez back into the country when he allowed himself to be voluntarily deported to Mexico rather than reveal his real name.

Prosecutors put on the stand several witnesses who recounted the control Perez exercised over others at the Valley Center compound where the group lived.

David Quiring, who married one of the women in the commune, testified he and his wife were the only ones in the group with real jobs. His wife convinced him to co-sign for a $50,000 equity loan on their house, most of the money which then went to the group, and had him co-sign on numerous car loans for other group members.

Quiring said he stayed on the 'outside edge of things' and mostly kept to himself while his wife spent more time with the group than she did with him.

A friend of the group, Phillip Young, also testified that he co-signed for several car loans for group members.

Car salesman Keith Williams took the stand to say commune members bought between 20-35 vehicles from the dealership, with Perez picking them out and designating whose names would be on the title. Perez never signed a document or had one titled in his own name.

Also taking the stand was a young woman who lived in a Kansas commune as a teenager and testified that the group's leader sexually abused her and threatened to kill her and her parents if she did not do as he told her.

The woman said Perez once pointed a gun at her and fired two shots into a wall. She said he then ordered her and her younger sister to undress. The sexual attacks continued over several years.

She also testified that Perez ordered her to secretly videotape as she was undressing an eight-year-old girl who had come to the compound to go swimming, posing her in sexually provocative ways.

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