Sheriff: Suspects used toys to lure children

FBI evidence response team members walk down a hill behind Hosanna Church in Ponchatoula on Wednesday in search of evidence related to a criminal investigation into the sexual abuse of children by former members of the church.

The Advocate/May 26, 2005

Ponchatoula -- Authorities spent Wednesday looking for additional evidence into the alleged occult rituals at Hosanna Church that included having sex with children and animals from 1999 to 2003. Sheriff Daniel Edwards said investigators are sifting through "volumes" of evidence and have at least 100 interviews to conduct.

The ninth suspect in the investigation into the alleged cult-like practices of the Ponchatoula church was to have arrived at New Orleans' Louis Armstrong International Airport from Ohio on Wednesday night.

Nicole Bernard, 36, of Columbus, Ohio, waived extradition in Ohio. Bernard is the woman who contacted authorities seven weeks ago and triggered the investigation.

Since Livingston Parish sheriff's deputies arrested Hosanna pastor Louis David Lamonica, 45, of Tickfaw, on May 16, authorities have arrested eight additional alleged cult members and have interviewed 10 victims, ages 1 to 15.

Deputies plan to interview 100 people for the case, and more arrests could follow, Edwards said.

Edwards said he was not aware of any search warrants or arrest warrants served as of Wednesday afternoon. There are "volumes" of evidence for detectives to sift through, so Edwards said he has few details to offer of what they have found.

Deputies also went to Ohio to bring back items seized by FBI agents from a storage unit rented by Nicole Bernard. The Associated Press reported that the search warrant for the storage unit in Ohio indicated agents seized a mattress, videos and nine garbage bags of costumes.

Detectives on Monday searched a Hammond storage unit rented by Patricia Pierson, 54, and found shotguns and a sword, Edwards said. Pierson was arrested Monday night when she arrived at the Baton Rouge Metro Airport.

Edwards said he did not know if any costumes were found in Pierson's storage unit.

Victims and suspects have told deputies that costumes and puppets were used in the rituals, sometimes to persuade the children to participate. Detectives also believe that members dressed in black to perform rituals that included cat blood on a pentagram.

Preliminary examination and bail hearings are scheduled next week for three of the suspects, Austin A. Bernard III, 36, of Hammond; Paul Fontenot, 21, of Hammond and Lamonica.

A bail hearing for Pierson was held Wednesday in Amite. Her bail was set at $250,000. She remained in jail Wednesday evening, Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Laura Covington said.

Counts against Pierson include principal to aggravated kidnapping, principal to aggravated rape and sexual battery.

Two suspects -- Lamonica and former Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff's Deputy Christopher B. Labat, 24, Hammond, are known to have private attorneys representing them.

A message left for Amite-based attorney Michael Thiel, who the Sheriff's Office said is representing Louis David Lamonica, was not immediately returned Tuesday.

Hammond attorney Gary Jordon, who with his partner, Ron Macaluso, represents Labat, said he had no comment at this time.

Other suspects are apparently represented by the Public Defender's Office. An inquiry left at the Public Defender's Office in Amite was not immediately answered Tuesday.

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