The pastor of a Laguna Hills church molested five boys in his congregation who ranged in age from 9 to 15 years old as they slept over or visited his Lake Forest apartment, a prosecutor told jurors Thursday.
Oscar D. Perez Perez's attorney, however, said the accusations were the result of "misunderstandings," and that his 69-year-old client was actually giving the boys sex education and tips on hygiene.
Perez is charged with 22 felony counts of lewd acts on a child younger than 14, four felony counts of lewd acts on a child and faces sentencing enhancement allegations for lewd acts on multiple victims.
Perez claims to be a bishop and pastor of Iglesia Antigua, or Old Church, which at the time of his arrest rented space at St. George's Episcopalian Church in Laguna Hills. Perez's church is not affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church or the Diocese of Orange.
"This case is about a violation of trust and innocence," Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Walker told jurors in her opening statement.
The boys under Perez's authority were like altar boys, Walker said.
"The defendant used that post to touch these boys sexually," Walker said.
The allegations surfaced shortly after an 11-year-old boy was sent to Perez's apartment last July to care for him, Walker said. Perez called the boy's mother and asked if he would come over and help him since he was ill, Walker said.
Perez had been affectionate with the boy previously, but, "This time the defendant kissed him in a way he was not supposed to. He kissed him on the lips, open mouth, with tongue," Walker said.
When the boy went to take a shower, Perez allegedly "came in to help him with the water temperature," Walker said. When the boy covered himself, Perez allegedly said, "Oh, don't be embarrassed," and he stripped the towel away from the boy and touched him, Walker said.
Perez was accused of using the excuse that some of the alleged victims were uncircumcised so he could touch the boys to show them about hygiene when he was actually masturbating them, Walker said.
Perez was accused of lying on top of the boy later, Walker said.
The boy sent a text message to his mother that he wanted to go home and missed her, Walker said.
The boy was too embarrassed to tell his mother what happened when he got home, but he told his older brother about it, Walker said. The older sibling told the boy's mother, who called sheriff's investigators, Walker said.
Investigators tracked down other alleged victims as they investigated the 11-year-old boy's accusations, Walker said.
Perez is accused of engaging in oral and anal sex with another victim and kissing and grabbing the buttocks of others, Walker said.
The boys told investigators they did not come forward to authorities with the allegations because they were afraid of "betraying" or "destroying" the church, Walker said.
One boy, "believed he would go to hell if he came forward and told the truth," Walker said.
Perez's attorney, Case Barnett, said that while his client's behavior was not normal, it was not against the law.
"Oscar Perez Perez would touch the penis and talk about puberty," Barnett said. "It's not common, but it's not criminal."
One parent gave Perez permission to touch the genitals of their 11-year-old son as part of a sex education and hygiene demonstration before two other members of the congregation, Barnett said.
Barnett attributed the criminal charges against his client to "public hysteria and police influence," claiming that investigators pressured the boys into allegations against Perez. The defendant could face up to 330 years to life in prison if convicted.
—City News Service