A Guatemalan pastor known as “Cash” Luna is suing Univision over a series of stories that accuse him of money laundering and link his wealth to a powerful Colombian drug trafficker.
Attorneys for Pastor Carlos Enrique Luna Lam, who founded the Christian megachurch Casa de Dios, are claiming the stories and television segments stemming from Univision’s “Magnates of the Lord” project published online in December 2018, include “false and defamatory statements” about Luna.
“Univision put profit ahead of truth or ethics and published its false story causing tremendous foreseeable harm,” said attorney Charles Harder at a press conference Thursday on the steps of the Miami-Dade County Courthouse. “This suit became necessary because Univision has refused to do the right thing, by retracting and apologizing for its false story.”
Univision did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Harder, who refused to answer questions from reporters about the suit Thursday, is also the California lawyer who sued now-defunct Gawker Media over the publication of a sex tape involving pro-wrestler Hulk Hogan. Hogan later settled the lawsuit. In 2016, Univision bought Gawker as part of the acquisition of Gizmodo Media Group and sold the conglomerate two years later.
The lawsuit names Univision journalists Gerardo Reyes and Peniley Ramírez, who reported Luna served as an adviser to drug trafficker Marllory Chacón Rossell, known as the “Queen of the South.” The reports also claim Luna accepted money from Chacón Rossell to build a mega temple in Guatemala that holds up to 12,000 congregants and cost about $45 million.
The Miami-based journalists attributed the information to Jorge Mauricio Herrera Bernal, whom the lawsuit identifies as an “admitted drug smuggler for a Colombian cartel.”
“Univision’s actions, as explained in greater detail herein, are the very definition of actual malice and reckless disregard for the truth,” the lawsuit said.
The suit also alleges that Univision met Bernal after he was released from law enforcement custody in the U.S. on charges of attempted murder and false imprisonment. During a court hearing, Luna’s attorneys claim, Bernal’s own lawyer deemed him incompetent to stand trial because he “exhibited delusional and paranoid behavior.” The lawsuit says Bernal was later taken into custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and deported.
The document adds that Luna is “taking a stand against unethical ‘journalism’ and fake news and their harmful effects” by bringing the lawsuit against the Spanish-language media company. His attorneys are seeking financial compensation “in excess of the jurisdictional minimum of $15,000” and demand a trial by jury.
Luna, who was not present at the press conference, also produces several television and radio shows broadcast throughout Latin America and the United States, including Miami.
The megachurch pastor published his own video statement Thursday on YouTube, denying the stories published by Univision.
“These statements have violated my reputation, as well as of our church Casa de Dios, by questioning my honorability and integrity as a leader, citizen and honest and efficient administrator,” Luna said.
El Nuevo Herald staff writer Jimena Tavel contributed to this report.