Agent details child rape, pornography case against La Luz Del Mundo church leader
Since the day he stepped off a private jet at Los Angeles International Airport and was arrested last June, Naason Joaquin Garcia, the leader of an international church headquartered in Mexico, has been held on charges of raping children and possessing child pornography, among other felonies.
The case against Garcia, whose followers consider him an apostle of Jesus Christ, is sweeping. It encompasses multiple underage victims, implicates several employees of his church, La Luz del Mundo, and is buttressed by photographs and videos seized from Garcia’s phones and other devices.
It had also been, to this point, untested in court.
On Tuesday, prosecutors from the California attorney general’s office began a preliminary hearing, by the end of which they must convince L.A. Superior Court Judge Ronald S. Coen that their case is strong enough to proceed. They expect the hearing to last seven to 10 days.
The prosecution’s first witness, Troy Holmes, a special agent from the California Department of Justice, testified that he oversaw the investigation from shortly after the time Garcia was reported through an online child sex abuse hotline and culminating in his arrest on a private airstrip at LAX.
When Garcia disembarked, he was carrying an iPhone and an iPad, Holmes said. The agent spent much of Tuesday testifying about videos and photographs retrieved from the devices.
Holmes described one video found on the iPad that showed a “young male” wearing a suit and a black mask that covered his eyes. A woman entered the frame, undressed him and performed oral sex on him, Holmes testified. A witness has identified the woman as the boy’s aunt, the agent said.
A pair of FBI agents traveled to Texas and interviewed the boy at his high school, Holmes testified. The boy, whom he called “John Doe 2,” was born in 2003, he said.
Garcia’s attorney, Alan Jackson, protested that prosecutors were refusing to identify his client’s accusers, as well as many of the case’s witnesses, depriving him of the opportunity to cross-examine them or establish any motives or biases. “The prosecution wants to conduct this entire hearing basically in secret,” he told the judge.
Diana Callaghan, a deputy attorney general, said they were keeping victims and some witnesses nameless because they’d been subjected to “threats and intimidation.” Coen ruled that, because this was a preliminary hearing and not a trial, Garcia didn’t have a right to confront his accusers.
Garcia has maintained his innocence since being arrested last summer, and his lawyers have said they look forward to clearing his name in court. Jackson declined to comment after Tuesday’s hearing.
The religious leader appeared in court Tuesday wearing an orange jumpsuit from the county jail, his wrists shackled at the waist, and he listened to a Spanish translation of the proceedings through an earpiece.
Holmes described a series of interviews he conducted with two girls and a woman identified as Jane Does 2, 3, and 4.
In April 2019, he spoke with Jane Doe 2, who was 17 at the time, he said. Several years earlier, she told the agent, she was invited to join a “service group” at La Luz Del Mundo’s church in East Los Angeles. A member of the church since birth, she told the agent she felt honored to be brought into this circle, which Holmes described as “an exclusive group of girls that serviced Mr. Garcia.”
Belonging to this group “was very important to her mother,” Holmes testified.
After she turned 15, Jane Doe 2 was invited by Alondra Ocampo, a member of La Luz Del Mundo in East Los Angeles and a co-defendant of Garcia’s, to join “a more exclusive group of girls,” Holmes said he was told. Girls in this group danced for Garcia while partially nude and wearing lingerie, Holmes testified.
When Jane Doe 2 told Ocampo she felt uncomfortable doing this, she said she was told “if she didn’t want to participate in the dancing, it would go against the church and Mr. Garcia,” Holmes testified. Knowing the girl’s father was not in her life, Ocampo told her Garcia “would be like a father to her and take care of her,” she told the agent.
One night, Jane Doe 2 came to Garcia’s home in East Los Angeles and was greeted at the back entrance by Ocampo, who told her to undress and serve Garcia coffee in the nude, she recalled to Holmes. When she entered Garcia’s office, he complimented her, kissed her and raped her, she said, according to Holmes. She was a virgin at the time, he said.
Holmes testified that he interviewed Jane Doe 3 in April 2019. She was 17 at the time. Ocampo had invited her into the same “service group” at the East Los Angeles church, only Jane Doe 3 knew it as the “fruteros,” or “fruit servers,” Holmes said.
Ocampo told the girl she would be “committing sins” with Garcia but that they would be forgiven because he was God’s servant, the young woman told Holmes. At a hotel in Whittier, Ocampo filmed Jane Doe 3 and another girl spreading whipped cream and strawberries on each other’s bodies and licking it off, Holmes said she told him.
In January 2018, Jane Doe 3 was summoned to Garcia’s East Los Angeles home and told to go to Garcia’s bedroom, where, according to Holmes, she saw a woman she knew as “Ms. Susie.” The woman — whom Jane Doe 3 subsequently identified as Susan Oaxaca, Garcia’s personal assistant and, now, a co-defendant — took the girl’s hand, placed it on Garcia’s genitals and began massaging his penis, she told Holmes.
Oaxaca asked the girl to perform oral sex on Garcia, and Jane Doe 3 “said, very quietly, ‘No,’ and shook her head,” the agent said he was told. The girl said she “felt stuck,” Holmes testified, and she ultimately submitted and performed a sex act on Garcia. She “felt disgusted afterward,” he recalled her saying.
The agent described interviewing Jane Doe 4, a 24-year-old woman who had served as Garcia’s personal assistant in Guadalajara, where the religious leader keeps another home. He likened the woman’s role in Mexico to that of Ocampo’s in East Los Angeles: overseeing a group of young girls who performed chores in Garcia’s household, then grooming some of them to be inducted into a more exclusive circle that was subjected to sexual abuse.
Garcia’s preference was “the younger the better,” she told Holmes. “He said something to the extent of, ‘They’re more pure, they have more love for me,’” the agent recalled her saying.
Jane Doe 4 said Garcia had raped and abused her, Holmes testified. A lifelong member of La Luz Del Mundo, she said she left the church after Garcia “asked for her to provide her sister for similar behavior,” the agent said.
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