New charges of child rape were filed against Naasón Joaquín García, leader of the La Luz del Mundo megachurch, four months after an appeals court dropped a criminal case against him.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra refiled the charges this week and added at least six additional felony charges each against the 51-year-old leader of the Mexico-based church — which claims to have a membership of more than a million globally —and the 37-year-old co-accused, Alondra Ocampo, the Los Angeles Times reported. The new complaint includes 36 felony charges for alleged crimes that occurred between June 2015 and April 2018.
Prosecutors alleged that García, who is known among his congregants as an “apostle of Jesus Christ,” committed sex crimes against five women and girls, according to KTLA5.
The earlier complaint that had been dropped in April included more than two dozen felony charges, including human trafficking, production of child pornography, and rape of a minor.
Garcia’s 25-year-old assistant Susana Medina Oaxaca is also facing charges but was released on bail. Azalea Rangel Melendez, another accused, remains at large as authorities have not been able to locate her, the LA Times reported.
While the earlier case against him was dismissed, Garcia has remained in custody since June 2019.
When García was arrested last year, his congregation was standing by him and dismissed the allegations as false.
“The apostle of Jesus Christ has always adhered to the law and demonstrated full respect to governmental institutions and the dignity of all persons. The church categorically rejects each and every allegation made against him,” the church said in a statement at the time.
“We trust in the principles of justice that govern our legal system in the United States and specifically in the state of California. Our legal system establishes a presumption of innocence that is guaranteed to all persons; which establishes that all persons are innocent until proven guilty,” it added.
A group of girls were told that if they went against García’s desires, “they were going against God,” according to the earlier criminal complaint. Children were told to perform “flirty” dances for García while wearing “as little clothing as possible.” García also once gave a group of children “a speech about a king having mistresses and stated that an apostle of God can never be judged for his actions.”
In last year’s hearing, a witness told the court that the church leader had pornography material that depicted the crimes, the Times reported.
“Crimes like those alleged in this complaint have no place in our society. Period,” Becerra said at the time. “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.”
A 1995 study described La Luz Del Mundo as a Pentecostal movement that takes elements from Mexican culture as well as the dominant Catholic culture. It also described the church as being authoritarian with strategic ties to Mexican politics.