Mexican leader of Megachurch gets over 16 years for sexually abusing girls

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The leader of Mexico’s megachurch La Luz del Mundo was sentenced Wednesday to more than 16 years in a California prison for sexually abusing young followers who said he made them his sex slaves.

Naasón Joaquín García, 53, abruptly pleaded guilty last week in Los Angeles Superior Court to three crimes on the eve of a long-awaited trial.

Prosecutors said García, who is considered the “apostle” of Jesus Christ by his 5 million followers worldwide, used his spiritual influence to have sex with girls and young women to whom it had been said that this would lead to their salvation – or their damnation if they refused.

“I never cease to be amazed at what people do in the name of religion and how many lives are ruined in the guise of a supreme being,” said Justice Ronald Coen, who called García a predator sexual.

The sentencing came after nearly three hours of emotional statements from five young women that García has been accused of sexual abuse. They had once been his most devoted servants. But in court, they called him a ‘bad guy’ and a ‘monster’, a ‘disgusting human waste’ and an ‘antichrist’.

“I loved my attacker,” said a woman identified as Jane Doe 4 and said she was his niece. “He used me over and over again as a sacrificial lamb to be slaughtered.”

García, dressed in an orange prison smock and wearing a surgical mask pulled under his glasses, did not turn to the women. He sat up straight and stared straight ahead with his hands chained to his waist as he watched the proceedings listening through headphones to a Spanish interpreter.

García pleaded guilty on Friday to two counts of forced oral copulation involving minors and one count of lewd acts involving a 15-year-old child. In exchange, prosecutors dropped 16 charges including allegations of raping children and women, as well as human trafficking to produce child pornography.

In this July 15, 2019 file photo, Naason Joaquin Garcia attends a bail review hearing in Los Angeles Superior Court in Los Angeles. (Al Seib/Los Angeles Times via AP, pool, file)

The victims objected to the plea deal, saying they only heard about it at the last minute and were not consulted. They implored Coen for a tougher sentence, but he said his hands were tied by the deal.

“The world has heard you,” he told a tearful Jane Does and their followers. “I promise you.”

The church, also known as Light of the World, said in a statement that García pleaded guilty because he did not believe he could get a fair trial after prosecutors withheld or tampered with evidence. The deal would allow him to be released early.

“The apostle of Jesus Christ had no choice but to accept with great pain that the agreement presented is the best way forward to protect the church and his family,” the church said. . She reiterated her support.

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

Supervised Deputy Attorney General Patricia Fusco tearfully praised the victims for their bravery in standing up to García and his supporters who rallied around him and shamed the young women. She said their courage had saved other people’s lives.

“They trusted him. They thought he was basically God on Earth,” Fusco said of the victims. “We know, of course, that he is not God. Not even close. … Anyone who still believes he is God is complicit in and supporting a child molester.

García was aided by other members of the church who treated his victims and facilitated the abuse. Two women who pleaded guilty to related charges were not sentenced on Wednesday.

“I never cease to be amazed at what people do in the name of religion and how many lives are ruined in the guise of a supreme being.”

– Judge Ronald Coen

Victims recounted how their joy at being invited into a secret circle with García quickly turned into an uncontrollable nightmare of rape and other sexual abuse which they sometimes described in detail.

They said they were called angels and said they were García’s property and that his wishes were divine commandments and that they should serve the Lord without question. Bible verses have been twisted to make them conform.

But they were also told they would be damned if they spoke out – and everyone else they spoke to too.

The women were born into the church and that was the only life they had known. They prayed three times a day and sang songs to García.

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

“It’s a seemingly fabricated fantasy,” defense attorney Alan Jackson wrote in a court filing.

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

When some of his followers finally turned against him, they found themselves isolated and suffering in silence. Some members of their own family did not believe them.

“Being called an apostate was the worst of the worst and you would go to hell no matter what,” said Jane Doe 2, who cried throughout her statement.

They were humiliated and shamed, called sluts and whores, they said. Their families were threatened.

One woman said she had had suicidal thoughts and another said she had attempted suicide on several occasions. They all said García had ruined their lives.

On the day Garcia was apprehended three years ago, Jane Doe 3 said her mother took her to church to join other worshipers who were crying and praying for him.

“I knew those tears weren’t for me. It broke me to stay there,” she said, crying. “I couldn’t help but feel betrayed.”


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