Orlando - Opening statements followed by closed-door testimony began Tuesday morning in the trial of an Ormond Beach pastor who federal prosecutors called a serial sexual predator who molested children in a case described as child sex trafficking.
The defense for Luis E. Morales said the allegations are "outlandish" claims of children with no physical evidence or witnesses to back them up.
Morales, 58, sat quietly as Assistant U.S. Attorney Karen Gable laid out the prosecution's case claiming he used his position as the self-proclaimed "apostle" of the En Fuego For Jesus ministry to fondle four girls between the ages of 10 and 14, and rape one of them.
Gable said Morales taught the victims that to become "ordained prophets" in the church they had to accept this abuse.
"He exploited their faith and their vulnerabilities as children," Gable told the 12 jurors.
In a federal indictment issued in May, Morales is charged with five counts of transporting children for the purpose of sexual activity. His co-defendant in the case, Rebeca Rivera, 27, of Connecticut, is similarly charged in two of those counts.
Prosecutors believe in 2009 Morales took a girl from Florida to Connecticut and during that trip molested her on several occasions, including in the back of his minivan as the girl's uncle was driving it down the road. Then in December 2010 he brought another girl from Arizona to Florida for the same purpose. That girl also traveled with Morales to the U.S. Virgin Islands. During that trip she claims he molested her on the airplane, Gable said.
Defense counsel Kenneth Weaver countered saying there was no physical or DNA evidence or even adult witnesses that these events even took place.
"This is very, very hard to believe," Morales' attorney said. "It is based on children's reports and that is it."
Rivera's attorney Andrew Chmelir told the jury a lot of the testimony they will hear has nothing to do with his client and urged them to listen to all the facts.
"Wait until the entire story is told," he said.
After hearing from the two sides, U.S. District Judge Roy Dalton ordered the courtroom closed for the testimony of the minor victims in order to protect their identities and make them more comfortable to talk.
Testimony in open court was expected to resume Wednesday morning at the federal courthouse in Orlando.