The Leader Of A Mexico-Based Church Has Been Charged With Sex Crimes Against Minors In Los Angeles
The leader of the La Luz Del Mundo, a Mexico-based church with branches in the U.S, was arrested on suspicion of human trafficking, forcible rape of a minor, and other felonies, prosecutors said Tuesday. Naasón Joaquín García was arrested in California and according to the church group, he is claimed to be an apostle of Jesus Christ. García as well as Alondra Ocampo, Azalea Rangel Melendez and Susana Medina Oaxaca, all of whom are linked with La Luz Del Mundo, allegedly committed 26 felonies in Los Angeles County between 2015 and 2018.
La Luz Del Mundo, which means “The Light of the World”, was founded in 1926 by García’s grandfather, Eusebio Joaquín González. The organization has faced controversy in the past and has been subject to criticism for its practices.
Prosecutors say there were four victims, three of whom were children.
According to prosecutors, García and his co-defendants allegedly coerced minors into performing illegal sexual acts. Members would tell them that if they went against any of García’s orders as “the Apostle,” they were defying God as well.
In a 19-page criminal complaint filed to the LA County Superior Court, victims were forced to perform “flirty dances” for García wearing “as little clothing as possible.” The criminal complaint also states that a child and a woman were raped. It notes that Ocampo directed victims to remove all clothing and sexually touch one another while she took pictures to send to García.
“Crimes like those alleged in this complaint have no place in our society. Period,” California Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra said at a press conference. “We must not turn a blind eye to sexual violence and trafficking in our state. At the California Department of Justice, we will do everything we can to prevent and combat these heinous crimes so that our communities are safe. If you see something, report it and we will vigorously pursue justice.”
A California judge raised García’s bail amount on Tuesday from $25 million to $50 million after investigators conducted additional search warrants.
Despite the charges and arrests, the church has denied the claims and say that García remains the spiritual leader of the group.
La Luz Del Mundo, which claims to have 5 million followers in 58 countries, has adamantly denied the charges against García. The church group is standing by the leader and have called the accusations “false”.
“We believe these accusations are defamation and slander of our international director, the apostle of Jesus Christ,” Silem García, a church spokesman, told the AP. “His position as an apostle of Jesus Christ was given to him by God, and for life, and he continues to lead the church.”
Worshipers and supports gathered to pray at the La Luz del Mundo church in East LA on Wednesday. Many of them were still in shock of the news and believe that Garcia is the target of a “smear campaign.”
“We’re united in prayer,” Jack Freeman, a minister who has been with the church for 27 years, told the LA Times. “An attack like this, which is meant to stumble us or bring us apart, it actually brings us closer together…. We’re not giving up. The church is still going to go forward. We believe this is still the church of the Lord.”
Reaction on social media has been nothing short of angry and shocked at the news of the accusations.
Many on social media couldn’t believe the details of Garcia’s crimes and have pointed to the church for not preventing this. Some have even gone as far as claiming followers of the religious group as “brainwashed.”
“Not to be the one who gets involved in religious matters….. BUT I knew there was something wrong with that “church”. I mean any person could see that…unless of course you were brainwashed by him and his followers.” One user wrote on Twitter.
As more details are revealed in the coming days, prosecutes hope more victims come forward.
“It would be hard to believe that, based on the information that we’re collecting, that it’s only these four individuals,” Attorney General Xavier Becerra said at a press conference, urging any victims to come forward, on Thursday.
Beccera said the investigation began last year when a tip came in through a website seeking victims of clergy sex abuse. He believes there are still more victims out there and is hoping justice is served on their behalf.
“You don’t do that to children, you don’t do that to adults,” Beccera said. “You don’t hide behind some religious veil, no law of California, no law of humankind and certainly no law of God would permit to occur what Naasón Joaquín García is alleged to have committed in this case against young girls and others.”