A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge held state prosecutors in contempt Thursday for not turning evidence over in the sexual abuse case against the leader of La Luz Del Mundo and two of his followers.
Judge Teresa Sullivan fined Deputy Atty. Gens. Amanda Plisner and Diana Callaghan $5,000 each for violating a court order to hand over materials to attorneys representing Alondra Ocampo, Susana Oaxaca and Naason Joaquin Garcia, leader of La Luz del Mundo, an international church based in Mexico with more than 5 million members. His followers call him the apostle of Jesus Christ.
The judge told prosecutors they have until Friday morning to turn over the evidence.
Garcia and the two co-defendants were arrested in June and charged with 26 felony counts that include child rape, production of child pornography and human trafficking. All three have pleaded not guilty. Garcia, who was hit with a historic $50-million bail early in the case remains in custody, as does Ocampo. A fourth defendant remains at large.
During the hearing, Sullivan told prosecutors they have been given more than “ample opportunity to comply” with the order to turn over evidence to the defense.
Prosecutors have said they have had a hard time combing through the evidence, in part because they haven’t been able to determine what can be handed over to the defense team and what can’t.
The judge said the court has taken much of that into account but that despite the amount of time the prosecution has been given, it was in violation of the court’s order.
“We are here at preliminary hearing, Mr. Garcia and Ms. Ocampo remained in custody and their attorneys have not been provided the information,” Sullivan said. “This is a violation of the court’s order and at this time I’m finding the government in contempt.”
Attorneys for the defendants declined to comment on Thursday’s hearing.
Prosecutors alleged that Garcia and the co-defendants sexually abused three girls and a woman in Los Angeles County between 2015 and 2018. Prosecutors said the victims were coerced into performing sexual acts and were told if they went against any of Garcia’s desires or wishes as “the Apostle” they were going against God.
Prosecutors have accused Garcia of using his position in power to take advantage and exploit young women. They alleged that he received numerous child pornography images and videos. They have said they expect the case to possibly include more victims.
Meanwhile Ocampo, a former college student, has been accused of being the “groomer and recruiter” of all the young women who were allegedly sexually assaulted by Garcia. In court, Plisner has said that Oaxaca was Garcia’s assistant.
Attorneys for Garcia have said thousands of female church members are ready to testify for him. They’ve called his bail amount unconstitutional and argued against Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra’s assertion that Garcia could raise money among his followers to post bail and flee even though the church does not permit its funds or assets to be spent to pay for criminal defense or bail.
Since his arrest the church has maintained its support of Garcia and the co-defendants.
At Thursday’s hearing, all three defendants sat quietly as Sullivan heard attorneys from both sides. When the hearing was over, deputies escorted Garcia and Ocampo back to their holding cells. Oaxaca, wearing a long black skirt and long sleeve shirt, walked back to her family. Elsewhere in the court, supporters nodded and smiled in agreement with Sullivan’s order.