Local Tip Leads To Church Abuse Case

World Now/May 21, 2005

A call from a Central Ohio home led authorities near New Orleans to uncover what they think is a church cult that sexually abused children.

Three men, including a sheriff’s deputy, an ex-pastor and a former church worker have been arrested on rape charges as part of an investigation into an alleged child sex abuse ring that may have operated out of a church near Ponchatoula, Louisiana.

Investigators in the Tangipahoa Parish and Livingston Parish Sheriff’s office say the charges are deeply disturbing, including allegations that the children were taught to perform sex on each other and animals.

Louis Lamonica, 45, the former pastor at the Hosanna Church near Ponchatoula; 24-year-old Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff’s Deputy Chris Labat; and 36-year-old Austin Bernard, who allegedly worked in the Hosanna Church, were all arrested on rape charges.

Tangipahoa Parish deputies said the investigation began after the mother of an alleged victim called from Ohio to say that she had fled the state in fear for the safety of her child.

Nicole Bernard, the youth minister's estranged wife, called police from a house in Blacklick, Ohio saying her child had been abused at Hosanna.

Deputies said she contended that in counseling sessions, the child spoke about abuse at the hands of Lamonica and others.

Livingston Parish Detective Stan Carpenter said that earlier this week that Lamonica just came into their office and started talking about the crimes, his involvement and giving the names of others.

According to Carpenter, Lamonica described how he had sex with some children, and then taught them to have sex with each other and an animal.

“That’s what he told detectives,” said Carpenter. “He said he was educating the children in sexual exploits and how to have sex. We didn’t know how to take it the man just came in off the street.”

Carpenter said statements from Lamonica led them to Labat, who allegedly attended the Hosanna Church and may have lived near Ponchatoula. Labat was arrested on rape charges.

Austin Bernard was charged with allegedly forcing a girl under the age of 13 to perform a sex act. Detectives said he worked with the youth group at the Hosanna Church.

Thursday night, Nicole Bernard was picked up from that house in Blacklick taken to the Franklin County jail and also charged with aggravated rape of a child.

Police said the investigation is ongoing and that more arrests are expected.

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