LOS ANGELES (CNS) - The leader of a Mexico-based evangelical megachurch was ordered today to stand trial on nearly two dozen criminal charges, including forcible rape of a minor, involving crimes allegedly committed in Southern California.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Ronald S. Coen found sufficient evidence to allow the case against Naason Joaquin Garcia, the 51-year-old leader of La Luz del Mundo, and his two co-defendants Alondra Ocampo, 37, and Susana Medina Oaxaca, 25, to proceed to trial.
Garcia -- who is jailed in lieu of $90 million bail -- is charged with 23 felony counts, including forcible rape of a minor, forcible oral copulation of a person under 18, unlawful sexual intercourse, lewd act on a child, extortion, conspiracy and possession of child pornography.
Ocampo is charged with 27 felony counts, including forcible rape of a minor, forcible sexual penetration, human trafficking by procuring a child to engage in a lewd act, production and distribution of child pornography and contact with a minor for a sexual offense. She is jailed in lieu of $10 million bail.
Oaxaca is charged with one felony count each of forcible oral copulation of a person under 18 and oral copulation of a person under 18. She is free on bond.
The California Attorney General's Office refiled the case against the three and added six new counts against Garcia and Ocampo on July 30, nearly four months after a state appeals court panel ordered the case to be dismissed.
The appellate court panel ruled April 7 that Garcia did not waive his right to a timely hearing to determine if there was sufficient evidence to require him to stand trial and that the hearing was not held within that time.
The newest criminal complaint alleges that the crimes occurred in Southern California between June 2015 and June 2019.
Garcia, Ocampo and Oaxaca are due back in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom for arraignment Sept. 1.
A fourth defendant, Azalea Rangel Melendez, is still being sought by authorities. She is charged with one count each of forcible rape and forcible oral copulation.
State prosecutors allege in the complaint that Ocampo told a group of minor girls that they were going against God if they went against any desires or wishes of “the Apostle'' -- Garcia.
“There is no question that this was used as a punishment for unproven allegations based on blatant hearsay,'' the church said in a written statement released after another Los Angeles Superior Court judge, George G. Lomeli, ordered Garcia's bail to be increased from $50 million.
“This bail amount is an abuse of the court's discretion and is illegal on its face. We reiterate our trust that judicial process will demonstrate the Apostle of Jesus Christ Naason Joaquin Garcia's absolute innocence.''
The Guadalajara-based Pentecostal sect has branches in 50 nations and claims more than 1 million members worldwide.
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