Naasón Joaquín García, the leader and self-proclaimed evangelist of La Luz del Mundo, a Mexico-based congregation with chapters in the U.S. that claims above 1 million followers, has been charged with 26 felony counts that include child rape, production of child pornography and human trafficking, according to California officials. Garcia and his co-defendants have been denied bail.
García forced his victims into fulfilling sex acts by telling them that withholding would be going against God, authorities announced. He allegedly forced the victims, who were members of the church, to sexually touch themselves and each other. One of his co-defendants also reportedly took naked portraits of the victims and transferred the images to García.
García told one of the victims and others in 2017 after they had completed a “flirty” dance wearing “as little clothing as possible,” that leaders can have paramours and an apostle of God cannot face judgment for his actions, the complaint states.
Church officials said García has always behaved legally and they repudiated the attorney general’s charges.
The church’s statement Tuesday said they held the charges would not lead to prejudice and religious bigotry against its followers.
The third and fourth followers charged include Alondra Ocampo, 36, who was arrested in Los Angeles County and is being detained ahead of her arraignment Wednesday in Los Angeles, while Azalea Rangel Melendez, remains at large.
It wasn’t immediately obvious whether the defendants had a lawyer.
The full name of the church is Iglesia del Dios Vivo, Columna y Apoyo de la Verdad, La Luz del Mundo, (English: Church of the Living God, Pillar and Ground of the Truth, The Light of the World).