A spokesman for a Mexico-based church, the leader of which is facing charges including forcible rape of a minor and possession of child pornography, Wednesday vehemently denied the allegations against the man viewed by followers as an apostle of Jesus Christ.
“The church categorically rejects each and every allegation made against him,” Ashley Valdez, spokesman for La Luz del Mundo church told reporters outside a congregation in East Los Angeles. “The apostle of Jesus Christ has always adhered to the law and demonstrated full respect to governmental institutions and the dignity of all persons.”
Naason Joaquin Garcia, 50, the leader of the Guadalajara-based La Luz del Mundo — The Light of the World — was arrested Monday at Los Angeles International Airport and was being held in lieu of $25 million bail. The church claims to have a worldwide membership of more than 1 million people.
The state Attorney General’s Office filed charges against Garcia and four others on Tuesday in Los Angeles Superior Court, alleging the crimes were committed in Southern California between 2015-18.
Garcia was arrested along with Alondra Ocampo, 36, and Susana Medina Oaxaca, 24. The fourth defendant, Azalea Rangel Melendez, remains at large.
State prosecutors said Garcia and the co-defendants coerced victims into performing sexual acts by warning them that defying “the Apostle” is akin to defying God.
The criminal complaint alleges, among other acts, that Ocampo directed minors to perform “flirty” dances for Garcia “wearing as little clothing as possible.” Ocampo also allegedly ordered various minors to “take off their clothing and touch each other sexually.”
The complaint also alleges that Garcia kissed and groped a 15-year-old girl in his office, and that he and Ocampo forcibly raped an underage girl. Garcia, Ocampo and Oaxaca also allegedly performed sex acts on an underage girl, according to the complaint.
Ocampo also allegedly instructed three underage girls to take nude photos of themselves to send to Garcia, telling them to “take photos without their underwear and with their legs open.”
Garcia and the other members could appear in court as early as Wednesday, but it was unclear exactly when they might be arraigned.
Church members gathered at the East Los Angeles congregation Wednesday morning to participate in a 24-hour prayer period for Garcia.
“We have prayers for 24 hours as a way to ask God to manifest the innocence of the apostle of the Lord,” Valdez said.
A church member told NBC4 he questions the charges.
“I have known him (Garcia) for a long time,” the man said. “I have only seen him act decent and clean with a lot of respect.”