Days before his trial began in downtown Los Angeles, the leader of a Mexico-based evangelical megachurch pleaded guilty on Friday to multiple sex-related charges involving minors, according to the attorney general’s office. of State.
Naasón Joaquín García, the 53-year-old leader of La Luz del Mundo, or Light of the World, is to be sentenced on Wednesday. It was not immediately clear what penalty he faces. According to the attorney general’s office, García pleaded guilty to two counts of forced oral copulation involving minors and a single count of lewd acts involving a 15-year-old child. Each charge involved a separate minor, prosecutors said.
“Today’s sentencing sends a clear message that sexual exploitation is never acceptable in California. We will hold you accountable if you break the law,” Attorney General Rob Bonta said in a statement.
“As leader of La Luz del Mundo, Naasón Joaquín García used his power to take advantage of children. He relied on those around him to train worshipers for sexual assault. today can never right the wrong, but it will help protect future generations. I am extremely grateful to our team at the California Department of Justice for their dedication to securing justice and fighting abuse on behalf of the people of California. We will always stand with Californians against injustice.”
A co-defendant in the case, Susana Oaxaca, 27, pleaded guilty on Friday to assault causing grievous bodily harm and will also be sentenced on Wednesday, according to the attorney general’s office.
A third defendant, Alondra Ocampo, 39, pleaded guilty in 2020 to four counts and will be sentenced at a later date.
García was due to stand trial next week, with jury selection set to begin on Monday.
He was originally sentenced in August 2020 to stand trial on 23 counts, including forcible rape of a minor, forced oral copulation of a person under 18, unlawful sexual intercourse, lewd act on a child, extortion, conspiracy and possession of child pornography.
Oaxaca was charged with one count of forced oral copulation of a person under 18 and oral copulation of a person under 18.
The three defendants were originally charged in June 2019, but a state appeals court ordered the case dropped in April 2020 on technical grounds. The appeals court panel found that Garcia did not waive his right to a timely hearing to determine whether there was sufficient evidence to compel him to stand trial and that the hearing was not had not taken place within that time.
The attorney general’s office then refiled the case, which alleges the crimes occurred in Southern California between June 2015 and June 2019.
Superior Court Judge Ronald S. Coen found sufficient evidence in August 2020 to allow the case against Garcia and Oaxaca to go to trial.
State prosecutors alleged in the complaint that Ocampo told a group of underage girls that they were going against God if they went against the desires or wishes of García, whom the church called “l ‘apostle of Jesus Christ’.
The Guadalajara-based Pentecostal sect has branches in 50 countries and claims more than one million members worldwide.
While the criminal case was ongoing, the church repeatedly insisted on García’s innocence.
In a statement posted to Twitter following a court hearing last month, the church said it was “fully confident that the time will come when Garcia’s innocence” will be proven in court. .
“Truth shines in the darkness and lies can never extinguish it,” the church said in the statement, in which it said it was “surprised the judge did not dismiss the case today. ‘today’.