LOS ANGELES (AP) — The leader of Mexico-based megachurch La Luz del Mundo and two followers charged with child rape and human trafficking will appear in court on June 21.
Naasón Joaquín García, 50, and his co-defendants appeared in Los Angeles Superior Court on Monday. They face a 26-count felony complaint that alleges crimes including child rape, statutory rape, molestation, human trafficking, child pornography and extortion. The charges detail allegations involving three girls and one woman between 2015 and 2018 in Los Angeles County.
Joaquín García, the church’s self-proclaimed apostle, remains in custody on $50 million bail, believed to be the highest ever set in the county. The June 21 appearance will include a bail review.
He and a follower of the church, Susana Medina Oaxaca, 24, were arrested Monday after their chartered flight from Mexico landed at Los Angeles International Airport. A third defendant, Alondra Ocampo, 36, was arrested in Los Angeles County and a fourth, Azalea Rangel Melendez, remains at large.
Joaquín García’s attorneys and worshippers say he will be exonerated and remains the church’s leader.
The fundamentalist Christian church, whose name translates to The Light of the World, was founded in 1926 by Joaquín García’s grandfather. His father also led the church and was the subject of child sex abuse allegations in 1997, but authorities in Mexico never filed criminal charges.
On Monday, Joaquín García formally switched his defense attorneys Monday to Ken Rosenfeld and Allen Sawyer.
Prosecutors asked Judge Francis Bennett to bar Joaquín García’s lawyers from working with and sharing information with members of the church for fear they might harass or intimidate potential witnesses. Sawyer said that’s not fair to his client and could affect his defense.
Bennett ordered the parties to compromise.
The church now claims 5 million members in more than 50 countries.