SALT LAKE CITY — Arturo Tenorio was like a father to the two women he inappropriately touched while "counseling" them on their marriage problems, they testified Wednesday.
Both of the man's alleged victims took the stand Wednesday on the first day of Tenorio's trial in 3rd District Court. He is accused of using his reputation and influence in the LDS Church to gain work as a marriage "counselor" and then manipulating that trust to take advantage of two clients.
Tenorio, 59, is charged with two counts of forcible sexual abuse, a second-degree felony.
Both women said they were referred to Tenorio by their LDS bishop and their first few sessions with Tenorio also involved their husbands. Later, they said, Tenorio told them he needed to meet with them "one on one."
They testified that the man emphasized his prior church callings, their shared faith and heritage and the fact that he was related to a general authority in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. More than anything, though, he emphasized that these women could trust him.
"I believe in my gospel, I believe in righteous people. I believe in justice and good people," one woman said, adding that Tenorio's church ties made her feel "great" about him. "(He said), 'I think of my daughter and I see you as that. I want to help as much as I can.'"
In opening arguments before Judge Bruce Lubeck, prosecutor Josh Player told the jury that Tenorio focused on sex in his appointments with the alleged victims and that he repeatedly returned to the topic. He said Tenorio would also emphasize his involvement in the LDS church, which later confused the alleged victims when they were being assaulted.
"(One woman) doesn't know what to do," Player said. "She's there with this man, asking for help. He's a leader in her church."
Defense attorney Ann Taliaferro said that what Tenorio did may have been wrong, but it wasn't criminal. She said one of the women never objected to the touching and when another asked Tenorio to stop, he complied.
"There's a huge difference between whether Mr. Tenorio crossed an ethical line, a professional line or a moral line and whether he committed a crime," Taliaferro told jurors. "That will be the crux of this case."
The first woman testified that Tenorio often asked about her sexual relationship with her husband, even after she told him that wasn't a problem. She said he eventually asked her about any physical insecurities and she told him that she had taken care of them with a breast augmentation. She said Tenorio then pulled down her shirt and began to grope her. She said she did nothing to stop him.
"I just didn't know what was happening," she said. "I didn't know what to think, I didn't know why this was happening. … I didn't know how to react."
She said Tenorio then demonstrated two different positions that she should try with her husband and that, though clothed, each brought him into contact with her.
She testified that before she left, Tenorio told her not to tell her husband what had occurred in the session and that he had only said what he did "because I trust and care for you and I want the best for your marriage."
"I was upset, I was sad, I was disappointed, scared," she testified, noting that she never saw Tenorio again.
She has since divorced and said she struggled to be in one-on-one situations with men after the incident. She often cried as she recounted what happened.
The second woman testified that Tenorio would recite scriptures. That, together with her bishop's referral, church callings he told her he'd held and his tie to his brother, Octaviano Tenorio of the church's First Quorum of the Seventy, persuaded her to trust the man.
"Listening to all that information, I saw him as a trustworthy person," she said. "A professional person."
In her individual meetings with him, Arturo Tenorio would touch her knee, shoulder and upper thigh whenever the subject of sex came up or when she became emotional, she said. She told him this made her uncomfortable, prompting him to reassure her and move away until a similar topic resurfaced.
"'Don't worry, you can trust me,'" she said he would say. "'I'm your friend. I'm trying to help you.' … I trusted him a lot. He was like a father to me."
She said Arturo Tenorio tried to reach for her chest, when she stopped him. She, too, often cried as she testified.
Arturo Tenorio is fairly well-known in the local Hispanic community. He was allegedly working with seven families at the time of his arrest, though police say he admitted in an interview that he is not a licensed marriage counselor, but did have training as a coach.
After Tenorio's arrest, the church issued a statement condemning all abuse and asking victims to come forward.
The trial is expected to continue Thursday. If convicted, he faces a maximum of 30 years in prison.