An associate pastor in California has been arrested and accused of molesting as many as 20 female church members in the past eight years.
Jorge Juan Castro, 54, worked as an associate pastor and counselor at Las Buenas Nuevas Church in Norwalk, Ca. In April, he was placed on leave after 20 women reported sexual abuse to a church official, who in turn reported it to police.
Castro allegedly told the women who questioned his actions that they were part of a faith-healing process, said police.
"He claimed to have healing hands and ulitized that process to eventually sexually assault them," Esson said. "He preyed upon them from a trust position. He warned them they'd be the subject of ridicule in the church if they told others," L.A. County Sheriff's Capt. Robert Esson told The Los Angeles Times.
But police initially struggled to press charges against Castro because the women feared talking to them. Not only were they confronted with a language barrier, as many of the women only spoke Spanish, but some of them, police believed, were not in the country legally and feared that law enforcement would deport them. Police also suspected that Castro threatened the women to try and keep them silent.
"The suspect, after the assaults, threatened to have the them deported," Sgt. Al Garcia of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department Special Victims told The San Gabriel Valley Tribune. "He also threatened to subject them to public ridicule."
Garcia acknowledged that Castro had been largely effective in silencing the women; only four had agreed to speak with detectives.
After a five month investigation, police arrested Castro at his home last week.
Castro has been charged with six felony counts in connection with alleged sexual assaults of four women between the ages of 18 and 39. Officials have said that the crimes occurred between 2004 and 2012.
The Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office also charged him with four counts of oral copulation by force and one count of sexual penetration by a foreign object, said spokesperson Shiara Davila-Morales. These charges involve two victims.
Garcia begged the remaining 16 women to share their stories, informing them that would not be reported to immigration, but they should testify to police to hold Castro responsible — and prevent him from acting again.
"We're here to tell the victims, and other potential victims, that law enforcement is here to help them. We will not report (them to) immigration. We're not going to deport them." Garcia said. "We want to help them deal with these heinous crimes and prevent him from doing it again."
Castro immigrated to the United States from Argentina in 2004 and joined the pastoral staff soon after arriving. He also worked as an associated pastor the Oasis Community Church, an affiliated church. While officials there are aware of the situation, so far no one has come forward from the church to press charges.
According to county booking records, Castro is currently being held in lieu of $2 million bail.