Angry judge denies child-sex-abuse pastor bail, says pastor preyed on young girls
Leader of the 5 million-member Light of the World church Naason Joaquin Garcia was denied bail on child sex crime charges after a visibly angered Los Angeles Superior Court judge heard a witness describe video evidence that allegedly shows the pastor in a sexual threesome involving a minor.
“This is a man who preyed on young girls,” Superior Court Judge David Fields declared at a bail review hearing, according to the Los Angeles Times. “Religion was used against these girls. They were told that if they didn’t comply [sexually], they were sinning.”
Garcia, 50, who is considered by his church to be an apostle of Jesus Christ, was arrested a week ago at the Los Angeles International Airport, the California Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s office told The New York Times. In a release which also highlighted the criminal complaint against Garcia, other individuals associated with the church were also named as co-defendants. They are: Alondra Ocampo, 36, Azalea Rangel Melendez and Susana Medina Oaxaca, 24.
Garcia and his co-defendants were charged with human trafficking, production of child pornography, forcible rape of a minor, and other felonies committed between 2015 and 2018.
A group of girls were told that if they went against Garcia’s desires, “they were going against God,” according to the criminal complaint. Children were allegedly told to perform “flirty” dances for García while wearing “as little clothing as possible.” García also once gave a group of children “a speech about a king having mistresses and stated that an apostle of God can never be judged for his actions,” the complaint says.
Garcia has pleaded not guilty to the charges against him and had been facing a $50-million bail, believed to be the highest ever imposed in L.A. County prior to Fields’ denial. Some of his followers have also declared he is “100% innocent.”
On Monday, according to the Los Angeles Times, state law enforcement officer and forensic examiner Steven Stover testified about a video, found on an iPad seized from Garcia, which allegedly shows the church leader having a threesome with a woman and an underage male.
Stover also testified that he had found child pornography on an iPhone taken from Garcia. One video found on the phone shows females “of a very young age” performing sexual acts.
Deputy Atty. Gen. Amanda Plisner called Garcia’s co-defendant, Ocampo, “the groomer and recruiter” of all the young women who were allegedly sexually assaulted by the pastor, prompting a denial of a request to reduce her $25 million bail as well. Oaxaca, meanwhile, had her bail reduced last month from $5 million to $150,000.
Plisner noted that many of the parents of the alleged victims “actually facilitate their abuse because they believe it to be a blessing to those young women.”
Stover further testified that he was still analyzing more than 100,000 images and videos on the phone confiscated from Garcia as well as an iPhone belonging Oaxaca.
He noted that one conversation between Oaxaca and another female highlighted how “Mr. Garcia has special privileges and he is not subject to the same rules as other people.”
“The conversation goes back and forth where [they discuss how] certain girls are ready for certain things, whether it be providing a dance for Mr. Garcia or advancing to something past an erotic dance and performing sexual acts,” he said, according to the Times. “There’s conversation about what a certain girl would do if she was given the opportunity to be alone with Mr. Garcia.”
In a statement sent to The Christian Post after Fields denied Garcia bail, church officials stated their strong support for the pastor.
“We wish to notify that the judge has decided not to grant the right to post bail. As a result, the legal team representing the Apostle of Jesus Christ Naasón Joaquín García will appeal this decision in hopes to revise and modify this ruling,” the church said.
“The decision imposed by the judge in today’s hearing, IN NO WAY IMPLIES GUILT, NOR DOES IT SUGGEST DEFEAT. HIS DEFENSE REMAINS STRONG. WE HAVE COMPLETE TRUST IN THE INTEGRITY OF THE APOSTLE OF JESUS CHRIST. It is important to recognize that every accused individual is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, which in this case has not occurred.”
Garcia’s defense attorney’s tried arguing that the allegations against their client were part of a sophisticated plot to frame him but Fields did not buy it.
“There’s just too much specific detail over a long period of time, several years, given by the Jane Does, for the court to believe that that this is all contrived and that somehow Garcia is being extorted,” Fields said.