Through his attorney, Father Jose Luis Cuevas entered a plea of not guilty Wednesday in a Long Beach courtroom overflowing with supporters of the 67-year-old.
The Long Beach Police Department received information that two women were victims of sexual battery at the hands of Cuevas, 67. The women first reported the incidents to the Archdiocese, then filed a police report.
After an investigation was launched, a third female came forward, a 17-year-old. The teen said there were repeated incidents of inappropriate touching over a two-year period by Cuevas. Police believe there may be other victims.
Long Beach police presented the case to the L.A. District Attorney's Office on July 19. The D.A. filed eight misdemeanor charges against Cuevas and one felony count involving lewd acts with a child.
"There are allegations of inappropriate touching over clothing, but there are hundreds, if not thousands, of individuals who will say what a good man Father Cuevas is," said Cuevas's defense attorney George Bird.
"There might be hundreds of people in support but we have three victims -- this has occurred over years and in this case if the court releases the defendant OR ["own recognizance"] or reduces bail, the court would in essence, your honor, be returning this defendant into a pool, into the community of his preferred prey," said the prosecutor in court Wednesday.
Wednesday afternoon the judge set bail for Cuevas at $260,000. He ordered Cuevas to stay away from children, refrain from changing residences and that he relinquish his passport.
Cuevas is no longer employed at St. Athanasius, but his supporters say they stand behind him and will raise money if they have to to get him out of jail.
"He has always been a person who has dedicated his life to helping others, to being of service," said Maria Zambrano, a Cuevas supporter.
The Los Angeles Archdiocese released a statement Wednesday: "The Archdiocese takes all such matter seriously. Father Cuevas has been removed from all ministry and he will be living privately pending the outcome of these matters. The Archdiocese is fully cooperating with law enforcement on the investigation."
Cuevas served at the Long Beach parish for the past seven years, according to police. He resided on church grounds during his time there.
The Long Beach Police Department believes additional victims may exist and asks that anyone who has had similar contact with the suspect, or information regarding someone who has, to contact the Sex Crimes Detail's Tip Line at (562) 570-7878. Anonymous tips may be submitted via text or Web by visiting www.tipsoft.com.