LOS ANGELES– The leader of the 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.
García, who is considered the “apostle” of Jesus Christ by his 5 million followers worldwide, had vigorously fought the charges until he abruptly pleaded guilty last week.
Prosecutors say he used his spiritual influence to have sex with several female followers. García had been tried on Monday on 19 counts, including allegations of child rape.
Judge Ronald Coen called García a sexual predator.
“It never ceases to amaze me what people do in the name of religion and how many lives are ruined under the guise of a supreme being,” Coen said.
Coen rejected the victims’ demands for a harsher sentence, saying his hands were tied by the plea deal.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s previous story follows below.
LOS ANGELES (AP) — One by one, several young women who said they were sexually abused by the leader of Mexico’s megachurch La Luz del Mundo implored a judge on Wednesday to give Naasón Joaquín García the maximum sentence for stealing. their innocence and destroys their lives.
They recounted how their happiness at being accepted into one of García’s inner circles quickly turned into an uncontrollable nightmare of rape and other sexual abuse they were told would lead to their salvation – or to their damnation if they refused.
“I loved my attacker,” said a woman identified as Jane Doe 4, who sobbed as she referred to García as a “monster.” “He used me over and over again as a sacrificial lamb to be slaughtered.”
García, 53, faces a sentence of 16 years and eight months after pleading guilty Friday in Los Angeles Superior Court to two counts of forced oral copulation involving minors and one count of lewd acts involving a 15-year-old child.
García, 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 at the day before the trial.
The women he admitted to abusing and at least one other accuser were united in their criticism of the plea deal offered by prosecutors from the Attorney General’s Office.
They said they looked forward to García being tried in the hope that he would be locked up for life. Now that option was gone and they begged Judge Ronald Coen to impose a sentence of at least 20 years, telling him that García had mocked the court and told his supporters that he had pleaded guilty only because that he was not being treated fairly.
Patricia Fusco, Assistant Deputy Attorney General, tearfully praised the victims for their bravery in standing up to García and his loyal supporters who rallied behind him and shamed the young women.
“They trusted him. They thought he was basically God on Earth,” Fusco said of the victims. “We know, of course, that he is not God. Not even close. … Anyone who still believes he is God is complicit in and supporting a child molester.
García, dressed in an orange prison smock and wearing a surgical mask pulled under his glasses, did not turn to the women. He sat up straight and stared straight ahead with his hands chained to his waist.
Prosecutors said he used his spiritual influence to have sex with congregants and was aided by other church members who nursed women and facilitated abuse.
The women said they were called angels or “angelists”, and were told they were García’s property.
They had only known life in the church – praying three times a day – and when they finally turned against García, they found themselves isolated and suffering in silence. Some members of their own family did not believe them.
“Being called an apostate was the worst of the worst and you would go to hell no matter what,” said Jane Doe 2, who cried throughout her statement.
García was due to stand trial on Monday on 19 counts that also included allegations of human trafficking to produce child pornography. A judge had dismissed four counts of extortion and sentence enhancements for grievous bodily harm due to lack of evidence.
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.