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Police: Church sex abuse case may involve 24 children

Louisiana pastor arrested and charged with child rape

Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
Sex Crimes

(CNN) -- Police have arrested the pastor of a defunct church in Ponchatoula, Louisiana, his wife and six former congregants in a sexual abuse case involving as many as 24 children, authorities said.

Authorities said they have interviewed five possible victims in the case. Victims may range in age from toddlers to teens, authorities said.

CNN does not identify children involved in sex abuse cases and has chosen not to identify adult defendants because they may share family names with the alleged victims.

Investigators believe the abuse took place between 1999 and 2002 and involved a "select few" congregants of the now-defunct Hosanna Church, Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff's spokeswoman Laura Covington said.

On Saturday, law enforcement authorities issued an arrest warrant for a ninth person in the case, said sheriff's deputies in Tangipahoa Parish, where the church was located.

The church's former pastor told deputies Tuesday in nearby Livingston Parish -- where the pastor lives -- that adults were sexually abusing children, parish sheriff's Detective Stan Carpenter said.

The former pastor told deputies he had been having sex with children for many years and "also educated the children as to how to perform sexual acts with each other and with animals," Carpenter said.

Carpenter said the pastor unwittingly implicated himself while talking to investigators. He was arrested and charged with two counts of aggravated rape of a child under age 13 and one count of crimes against humanity for alleged sexual acts involving animals, the detective said.

Among those the pastor allegedly implicated were his 45-year-old wife -- also charged with aggravated rape of a juvenile under age 13, Carpenter said.

Law enforcement authorities conducting the investigation include sheriff's deputies from Tangipahoa Parish, Livingston Parish, officers of the Ponchatoula Police Department and the FBI.

On Friday, a police search of two homes resulted in confiscation of three vehicles, computers and other items that authorities said may be connected to the case. The FBI took custody of the vehicles. Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff Daniel Edwards said some of the crimes are believed to have been committed in the vehicles.

All but one of the defendants in the case are jailed without bond. They are charged with aggravated rape of a child under 13 -- a charge which, if convicted, can carry a death sentence in Louisiana, authorities said.

Also in police custody -- in addition to the pastor and his wife -- are a sheriff's deputy and a woman who tipped off investigators by telephoning them from Ohio, authorities said.

About six weeks before the pastor spoke with Livingston Parish sheriff's deputies, a former church member phoned the Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff and tipped off deputies, sheriff's spokesperson Covington said. The 36-year-old woman was taken into custody in Ohio on a Louisiana warrant charging her with aggravated rape of a child under age 13, Covington said.

CNN's Stacia Deshishku contributed to this report.

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