Mexican mega-church leader pleads guilty in Los Angeles to sexual abuse

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FILE - Naasón Joaquín García, the leader of the fundamentalist church in Guadalajara, Mexico, La Luz del Mundo, appears in Los Angeles County Superior Court on June 5, 2019. Naasón Joaquín García, the leader of the megachurch Mexican La Luz del Mundo, pleaded guilty Friday, June 3, 2022 to sexually abusing three girls, California state prosecutors announced.  (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File)

FILE – Naasón Joaquín García, the leader of the fundamentalist church in Guadalajara, Mexico, La Luz del Mundo, appears in Los Angeles County Superior Court on June 5, 2019. Naasón Joaquín García, the leader of the megachurch Mexican La Luz del Mundo, pleaded guilty Friday, June 3, 2022 to sexually abusing three girls, California state prosecutors announced. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File)

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Naasón Joaquín García, the leader of Mexico’s La Luz del Mundo megachurch, who had been charged with child rape and other charges, admitted days before trial that he had sexually abused three girls, said California state prosecutors.

García, 53, pleaded guilty Friday in Los Angeles Superior Court to two counts of forced oral copulation involving minors and one count of lewd acts on a 15-year-old child. and human trafficking to produce child pornography.

Garcia, leader of a church founded by his grandfather that has 5 million followers worldwide, was seen as the “apostle” of Jesus Christ who could lead the faithful to salvation. Prosecutors said he used his spiritual influence to have sex with several female followers.

“García used his power to take advantage of children, Attorney General Rob Bonta said in a statement. “He relied on those around him to groom worshipers for sexual assault. protect future generations.

The guilty plea was an abrupt turn of events following vigorous denials from his lawyers and ardent support from the Guadalajara-based church, also known by its English name, The Light of the World. The church and Garcia’s attorneys did not immediately comment on the guilty plea.

Garcia faces up to 16 years and eight months in prison when sentenced on Wednesday. He remains jailed on $90 million bail.

Garcia was arrested in 2019 and charged along with two female followers accused of helping facilitate the abuse.

In addition to facing his accusers at trial, Garcia also faced the prospect of having to challenge one of his accomplices.

Alondra Ocampo, who had pleaded guilty and admitted to helping find his victims and participating in the abuse, was set to testify against him.

Attorney Fred Thiagarajah, who represents the former leader of the church youth group, said Ocampo would have been the star witness who could corroborate the victims’ testimony and provide context for the prosecutor’s case.

“She actively recruited and groomed girls for him,” Thiagarajah said. “She would target girls and bring them into her inner fold. She was charged with sexualizing these girls and facilitating their abuse.

Ocampo told the girls that if they rejected the “apostle’s” wishes and desires, they were going against God, according to the charges.

She encouraged the girls to wear skimpy outfits and dance for Garcia, who “then gave them a speech about a king having mistresses and said that an apostle of God can never be judged for his actions,” according to the accusations.

Ocampo told three girls that Garcia would be happy to receive nude selfies of them and she even orchestrated pornographic photo shoots of them touching each other which she said would be sent to Garcia.

Garcia thanked the girls for the photos, according to court documents.

Another co-defendant who was a member of the church, Susana Medina Oaxaca, 27, pleaded guilty Friday to assault likely to cause grievous bodily harm, a misdemeanor.

Attorney Pat Carey said Oaxaca could face up to 10 years in prison if found guilty at trial and the guilty plea was in her best interests.

“It was also a relief to put a 3-year process behind her rather than go through a lengthy jury trial, 98% of which involved evidence that had nothing to do with her,” Carey said in an email. mail.

Garcia had previously pleaded not guilty to 19 counts, including forcible rape of a minor and unlawful sexual intercourse. A judge had dismissed four counts of extortion and sentence enhancements for grievous bodily harm due to lack of evidence.

Ocampo, 39, was charged with many of the same counts as Garcia – plus additional charges. She pleaded guilty to three counts of contact with a minor for a sexual offense and one count of forced sexual penetration involving four accusers. She will serve four years in prison under the deal with prosecutors, Thiagarajah said.

Defense attorneys had said prosecutors were operating on a far-fetched legal theory that Garcia used spiritual coercion for sexual pleasure.

“Prosecutors have repeated ad nauseam their new theory that the majority of the crimes charged in this case were not committed due to physical restraint, physical force or fear of physical force, but because the Complaining Witnesses had no choice but to comply because they were under the complete mental and spiritual slavery of Mr. Garcia and the La Luz Del Mundo Church,” wrote the attorney for the Alan Jackson’s defense in a court filing: “It’s an apparently fabricated fantasy.”

Prosecutors said the victims were essentially brainwashed by Garcia and believed they would be ostracized by the island church community if they did not submit to its wishes. Denying a defense motion to dismiss the case, a judge said Garcia used religion as “invisible handcuffs” to exploit his victims.

Garcia’s grandfather founded the Guadalajara-based Fundamentalist Christian Church in 1926.

The church has tried to cultivate a law-abiding and hard-working image in Mexico – where it has around 1.8 million followers. Its male members prefer suits and short hair, and female members wear veils that cover their hair and modest dresses. There are approximately 1 million US members.

Garcia took over as “apostle” after the death of his father, Samuel Joaquín Flores, in 2014.

Flores was also the subject of child sexual abuse allegations in 1997, but Mexican authorities never filed charges.

Ocampo said she was sexually abused by Flores, Thiagarajah said.

Ocampo came under a lot of pressure from the church community and her own family when she turned on Garcia, Thiagarajah said. Ocampo’s mother said she didn’t believe her and accused her of working for Satan.

“This church is a very dark institution,” Thiagarajah said. “The extent of the abuse this guy has committed on women and children is staggering and it’s been going on for generations.”

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