The California Attorney General’s Office Thursday refiled sex-related charges against the leader of a Mexico-based evangelical megachurch, nearly four months after a state appellate court panel ordered the case against him to be dismissed on a technicality.
Naason Joaquin Garcia, the 51-year-old leader of La Luz del Mundo, was ordered to be jailed in lieu of $50 million bail, according to the Attorney General’s Office. He has been behind bars since his June 2019 arrest by Los Angeles Airport police.
The latest case — which includes six new counts against Garcia — charges him with 23 felony counts, including forcible rape of a minor, forcible oral copulation of a person under 18, unlawful sexual intercourse, lewd act on a child, extortion, conspiracy and possession of child pornography.
Co-defendant Alondra Ocampo, 37, is charged with 27 felony counts, including forcible rape of a minor, forcible sexual penetration, human trafficking by procuring a child to engage in a lewd act, production and distribution of child pornography and contact with a minor for a sexual offense. A half-dozen of the charges against her are new, and she remains jailed in lieu of $25 million bail.
Another woman, Susana Medina Oaxaca, 25, is charged with one felony count each of forcible oral copulation of a person under 18 and oral copulation of a person under 18. She is free on bond.
A fourth defendant, Azalea Rangel Melendez remains charged in the earlier case with one count each of forcible rape and forcible oral copulation. She is still being sought by authorities.
The criminal complaint alleges that the crimes occurred between June 2015 and April 2018.
In April, a three-justice panel from California’s 2nd District Court of Appeal found that Garcia did not waive his right to a timely hearing to determine if there was sufficient evidence to require him to stand trial and that the hearing was not held within that time.
The California Attorney General’s Office initially filed 14 counts against Garcia last year and he agreed to a delay in his preliminary hearing, but three more charges were subsequently added without Garcia waiving his right to a speedy preliminary hearing.
The appellate court panel found that a court would have to find good cause for a continuance if the defendant did not waive his right to a timely preliminary hearing.
“Here, Garcia had a statutory right to a preliminary hearing within 10 court days of his arraignment and plea on the amended complaint. Because Garcia did not personally waive that right and the preliminary hearing was not held within that 10-day period, he was entitled to dismissal of the amended complaint…,” the appellate court panel found in its April 7 ruling.
Two Los Angeles Superior Court judges had rejected the defense’s bid for the amended complaint against Garcia to be dismissed, prompting his attorneys to ask the appellate court to intervene.
The newest criminal complaint alleges that the crimes occurred in Southern California between June 2015 and June 2019.
State prosecutors allege in the complaint that Ocampo told a group of minor girls that they were going against God if they went against any desires or wishes of “the Apostle” — Garcia.
The Attorney General’s Office noted that its hotline and online web form asking any potential alleged victims to come forward are still active at oag.ca.gov/LLDM.
Ashley Valdez, a representative of the evangelical church, 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,” Valdez said previously.
The Guadalajara-based Pentecostal sect has branches in 50 nations and claims more than 1 million members worldwide.