A Florida judge dismissed a civil lawsuit in which the Guatemalan church Iglesia Cristiana Casa de Dios and its pastor, Carlos ‘Cash’ Luna, alleged that they were defamed by Univision in reports that revealed that the pastor received financial support for his church from convicted drug dealer, Marllory Chacón.
Miami Dade Circuit Court judge, Daryl E. Trawick, ruled that Luna's lawyers had not “adequately pleaded facts that, if proven, would establish ‘actual malice’” in the stories that aired on December 2, 2018 and were published on the Univision News website as a part of the series ‘Magnates of the Lord.’
The plaintiffs also failed to meet the burden of proof and rules that protect freedom of expression, according to the judge, who granted Univision’s motion to dismiss brought under Florida’s Anti-SLAPP statute. The statute limits suits brought “without merit” and because a person or entity “has exercised the constitutional right of free speech in connection with a public issue.”
The judge found that Univision’s reporting addressed “issues of utmost public interest and concern: the rise of extravagant mega-churches in impoverished countries such as Guatemala based on the ‘prosperity gospel,’ a theology that espouses wealth as a blessing from God.”
Univision reported that Chacón, a convicted drug trafficker and neighbor of Luna, gave the pastor sums in cash to help build his church.
The Univision reports "make clear that they were based on a months-long investigation" and that the reporters consulted "multiple sources and review[ed]... numerous documents," the judge acknowledged in his ruling last Saturday. "It is also undisputed that Defendants tried multiple times to interview Luna," the judge added. Luna declined to be interviewed by Univision for the report.
The lawsuit was filed last June against Univision, and journalists Gerardo Reyes and Peniley Ramírez by a team of lawyers under the direction of Charles Harder, who represented President Trump in the defamation case of exotic dancer Stormy Daniels.
Luna alleged that Univision falsely accused him of receiving significant amounts of money from Chacón.
The ruling dismissed arguments questioning the credibility of a key Univision source, a pilot and former DEA informant, Jorge Herrera Bernal, who appeared on camera stating that he witnessed several conversations between Chacón and Luna regarding payments to the pastor.
The judge also mentioned that Univision interviewed an anonymous source, who said he personally handed Luna a bag containing Chacón’s money.
Luna claimed in the church’s lawsuit that he had no personal relationship with Chacón. His lawyer added at a legal hearing that they had only met twice.
The judge noted that prior to the Univision reports, another respectable publication reported that Chacón had given Luna expensive gifts, including a Mercedes Benz and a Rolex.
Univision contacted lawyers for Luna seeking a response to the judge’s ruling but had not received a reply by the time this article was published.