LOS ANGELES (CNS) - The leader of a Mexico-based church that claims to have a worldwide membership of more than a million people is set to be arraigned today on more than a dozen criminal charges including forcible rape of a minor, lewd act on a child and extortion.
Naason Joaquin Garcia, 50, is charged with one count each of forcible rape of a minor, lewd act on a child, forcible oral copulation of a person under 18, unlawful sexual intercourse and extortion, along with two counts of forcible rape, oral copulation of a person under 18 and conspiracy and three counts of forcible oral copulation.
The state Attorney General's Office filed charges last Tuesday against Garcia, the leader of La Luz del Mundo, and three others in Los Angeles Superior Court, alleging that the crimes were committed in Southern California between June 2015 and April 2018.
Ashley Valdez, a spokesman for the church, vehemently denied the allegations against the man viewed by followers as an apostle of Jesus Christ.
“The church categorically rejects each and every allegation made against him,” Valdez said.
At a news conference Friday, Garcia's attorney, Kenneth Rosenfeld, told reporters, “I am here because of false charges filed against Mr. Joaquin. This is not who this man is. This is not this man's character. This is a high- tech hit job, what happened here. We will not rest, we will not stop until every allegation is systematically, methodically proved to be false that is leveled against the apostle.”
Garcia -- who was arrested a week ago at Los Angeles International Airport -- was being held in lieu of $50 million bail.
Also taken into custody were Alondra Ocampo, 36, who was jailed in lieu of $25 million bail, and Susana Medina Oaxaca, 24, who was being held in lieu of $5 million bail.
Ocampo is charged with 21 counts, including forcible rape of a minor, forcible oral copulation of a person under 18, human trafficking for production of child pornography and production/distribution of child pornography, while Oaxaca is charged with one count each of forcible oral copulation of a person under 18 and oral copulation of a person under 18.
A fourth defendant, Azalea Rangel Melendez, remains at large and is charged with one count each of forcible rape and forcible oral copulation.
State prosecutors alleged that Garcia and his co-defendants coerced the victims into performing sexual acts by warning them that defying “the Apostle” is akin to defying God.
The criminal complaint alleges, among other acts, that Ocampo directed minors to perform “flirty” dances for Garcia “wearing as little clothing as possible.” Ocampo also allegedly ordered various minors to “take off their clothing and touch each other sexually.”
The complaint also alleges that Garcia kissed and groped a 15-year-old girl in his office, and that he and Ocampo forcibly raped an underage girl. Garcia, Ocampo and Oaxaca also allegedly performed sex acts on an underage girl, according to the complaint.
Ocampo also allegedly instructed three underage girls to take nude photos of themselves to send to Garcia, telling them to “take photos without their underwear and with their legs open.”
Church members gathered at the East Los Angeles congregation last Wednesday morning to participate in a 24-hour prayer period for Garcia.
“We have prayers for 24 hours as a way to ask God to manifest the innocence of the apostle of the Lord,” Valdez said.
A church member told NBC4 he questions the charges.
“I have known him (Garcia) for a long time,” the man said. “I have only seen him act decent and clean with a lot of respect.”
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