Members of the Light of the World evangelical church congregate at dawn Wednesday at its headquarters in Guadalajara, Mexico, to pray for the liberation of its leader, Naason Joaquin Garcia, who was arrested in the United States for human trafficking, child pornography and sexual abuse of minors. Photo by Francisco Guasco/EPA-EFE
June 5 (UPI) -- The leader of a Mexico-based church has been charged in Los Angeles with human trafficking, child porn and child rape.
Naason Joaquin Garcia, also known as Joaquin Garcia, leads the La Luz Del Mundo (Light of the World) evangelical church in Guadalajara, Mexico, which has many members in Los Angeles and 1 million members worldwide, according to California Attorney General Xavier Becerra's office.
Garcia, 50, and his co-defendants Alondra Ocampo, 36, and Susana Medina Oaxaca, 24, were arrested Monday on 26 felony charges for crimes committed between 2015 and 2018.
Los Angeles Superior Court judge set bail for Garcia at $25 million while Campo's and Oaxaca's bail were set at $5 million, according to the complaint.
Prosecutors said in the complaint that García and his co-defendants coerced victims into performing sex acts by telling them that if they refused, it would be going against God.
The church considers Garcia to be an apostle of Jesus Christ.
Three of the four victims were children. An adult and child were raped, according to the complaint. The accusations include human trafficking and forcing children to perform oral sex.
According to the complaint, Garcia in September 2017 allegedly coerced a group of minors to perform "flirty" dances while in "as little clothing as possible" and gave them speeches about kings having mistresses and that an apostle cannot be judged for his actions.
The complaint also states that between September 2017 and January 2018, Ocampo took photos of female minors "touching each other sexually at her direction for the purpose of sending the photographs" to Garcia.
Alondra Ocampo and Susan Medina Oaxaca, Garcia's assistants and members of the church, were also arrested in the case. Azalea Rangel Melendez, named in the complaint, remained at large.
"Crimes like those alleged in this complaint have no place in our society. Period," Becerra said in a statement. "We must not turn a blind eye to sexual violence and trafficking in our state. At the California Department of Justice, we will do everything we can to prevent and combat these heinous crimes so that our communities are safe. If you see something, report it and we will vigorously pursue justice."
The charges were the result of an investigated spearheaded in 2018 by the California Department of Justice following a tip it received through its clergy abuse online complaint form, CBP said in a press release Wednesday.
"The coercion of minors is unconscionable under any circumstances, but the allegations are even more disturbing when the accused, like the defendant, hold positions of public trust," said Joseph Macias, special agent in charge for Homeland Security Investigations. "HSI will continue to work closely with our state and federal law enforcement partners to bring those who would sexually exploit children to justice."
A La Luz Del Mundo representative denied the charges and defended Garcia.
"He is a good man," La Luz Del Mundo minister Jack Freeman told KCBS-TV. "He is a holy man. He teaches respect for all. He has countless recognition from around the world for humanitarian work in helping women and children in need."