Naasón Joaquín García, leader of the La Luz del Mundo church, sentenced to 16 years in prison in Los Angeles for pleading guilty to sexually abusing teenagers

LOS ANGELES — The leader of La Luz del Mundo church was sentenced to 16 years and eight months in a California prison for sexually abusing three girls.

Naasón Joaquín García was sentenced in Los Angeles Superior Court on Wednesday after pleading guilty to three crimes on the eve of a long-awaited trial.

Naasón Joaquín García, 53, who is considered the ‘apostle’ of Jesus Christ by his 5 million followers worldwide, had vigorously fought child rape charges, until he abruptly accepted a plea deal on the eve of the trial.

The leader of the La Luz del Mundo church pleaded guilty in Los Angeles Superior Court on Friday to two counts of forced oral copulation involving minors and one count of lewd acts on a 15-year-old child .

Prosecutors said he used his spiritual influence to have sex with several followers and was aided by other church members who facilitated the abuse.

Church youth group leader Alondra Ocampo, who previously pleaded guilty to abusing the girls, was accused of directing teenage girls in skimpy outfits to perform “saucy” dances for García.

She also performed nude photo shoots for García in which the girls touched each other, according to the charges.

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

García told the girls after dancing for him that a king could have mistresses and that “an apostle of God can never be judged for his actions”, according to the charges against him.

Ocampo was ready to testify against him, his attorney Fred Thiagarajah said.

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

García was due to stand trial on Monday on 19 counts that also included allegations of human trafficking to produce child pornography.

READ MORE: Mexican megachurch leader pleads guilty in Los Angeles to sexually abusing 3 girls, state prosecutors say

A judge had dismissed four counts of extortion and sentence enhancements for grievous bodily harm due to lack of evidence.

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.

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.

García’s grandfather founded the Guadalajara-based Fundamentalist Christian Church – known by its English name, The Light of the World – 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.

The church has tried to cultivate a law-abiding and hardworking 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.

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