An associate pastor is accused of sexually assaulted at least 20 parishioners at his Norwalk church, allegedly telling the women he had "healing hands" and threatening to call immigration officials if they reported him, authorities said.
Detectives alleged that Jorge Juan Castro, 54, targeted female parishioners at Nuevas Buenas Church who were undocumented immigrants and spoke only Spanish, assaulting them at the church or during home visits. He was arrested and charged last week on suspicion of rape and related counts.
Los Angeles County sheriff's officials claim the incidents date back his arrival in Los Angeles from Argentina in 2004.
Castro allegedly told the women the sex acts were part of a faith-healing process.
"He claimed to have healing hands and utilized that process to eventually sexually assault them," L.A. County sheriff's Capt. Robert Esson said. "He preyed upon them from a trust position. He warned them they'd be the subject of ridicule in the church if they told others."
Sheriff's officials launched their investigation in April after they were notified by a third party who had talked to many of the alleged victims. Church leaders removed Castro from the church upon learning of the case, Esson said, and detectives went to the mostly Spanish-speaking congregation in hopes of gathering more information.
Some victims provided evidence to detectives and their allegations led to the charges, Sgt. Al Garcia said.
After surveillance by undercover major-crimes detectives, Castro was arrested last week at his home in Norwalk and later charged with six felony counts including rape, penetration by a foreign object and oral copulation. The number of charges is expected to rise as authorities look for more potential victims.
Only four of the alleged victims have come forward, Garcia said. The rest fear deportation.