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La Luz Del Mundo leader held on all counts of rape, child pornography and sex trafficking

Naasón Joaquin Garcia, leader of the Guadalajara-based La Luz del Mundo church.
Naasón Joaquin Garcia, leader of the Guadalajara-based La Luz del Mundo church, at his bail hearing in downtown Los Angeles on Aug. 5.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

One after another, the agents from the California Department of Justice took the witness stand and related what the teenage girls and young women had told them: Naasón Joaquin Garcia, the leader of La Luz Del Mundo, an international church headquartered in Mexico, had raped them.

After five days of testimony, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Ronald S. Coen on Tuesday found that prosecutors from the California Attorney General’s office had gathered enough evidence to bind over for trial Garcia and two co-defendants, Alondra Ocampo and Susana Oaxaca, on all 36 counts of rape, child pornography, sex trafficking and extortion lodged against them.

All three have pleaded not guilty, arguing through their lawyers that the prosecution’s case rests on the untested, uncorroborated word of accusers whom the authorities have refused to identify.

Garcia, a dual citizen of the United States and Mexico, succeeded his father in 2014 as the leader of La Luz Del Mundo. The church’s followers, said to number in the millions, consider Garcia an “apostle” of Jesus Christ.

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La Luz Del Mundo, Spanish for “The Light of the World,” was founded nearly a century ago by Garcia’s grandfather, Aarón Joaquín. In court papers, prosecutors said they believe sexual abuse has been perpetrated within La Luz Del Mundo since the 1970s.

When he took control of the church six years ago, Garcia “found himself at the head of an organized sex ring originated by his father (or perhaps grandfather),’” Troy Holmes, a special agent for the California Department of Justice, wrote in a declaration.

In a statement, Jack Freeman, a minister and spokesman for the church, said the attorney general’s office has presented only “suspicions” based on “anonymous witnesses alleging outlandish claims.”

“Blatant hearsay does not amount to truth,” he said, predicting that as the case moves through the courts, “the innocence and honorability of the Apostle of Jesus Christ Naasón Joaquin Garcia will be proven.”

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Over five days, Holmes and several other agents related the accounts of Garcia’s unnamed alleged victims. These “Jane Does,” several of whom attended a La Luz Del Mundo church in East Los Angeles, described a circumscribed religious community outside of which they had no friends or social life. Some of the girls’ families had belonged to the church for generations, the agents said.

Such an insular congregation made leaving the church — and escaping Garcia’s abuse — extremely difficult, Deputy Atty. Gen. Amanda Plisner told the court.

Garcia’s attorneys, Caleb Mason and Alan Jackson, disputed that account. They protested that prosecutors were offering testimony from their central witnesses — Garcia’s accusers — through surrogates depriving Garcia’s defense the chance to find inconsistencies in their accounts or pinpoint biases and motives. Coen ordered that Garcia had no right to confront his alleged victims at a preliminary hearing, but said that ruling is “not going to go on forever.”

The accounts of the Jane Does, as related by the agents who interviewed them, followed a similar line: In their teens, they were invited by Ocampo, a parishioner at the East Los Angeles church, to join a “service group” that did chores at Garcia’s home. The girls told investigators their parents felt proud and considered it an honor to be near the head of the church.

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At 14 or 15, the girls were solicited to join a more exclusive group, they told agents. Some knew it as “the dancers”; others, the “fruteros,” or “fruit servers,” Holmes testified. A girl referred to as Jane Doe 1, who joined the group at 15, said they first danced and performed skits for Garcia, according to Thomas Donohue, a former special agent who interviewed the girl.

One day, while practicing a dance at a La Luz Del Mundo church in Whittier, Ocampo told Jane Doe 1 and several other girls a story about “God allowing a king to take a woman to serve him, to please him,” Donohue testified. Ocampo told them it would be “an abomination” to deny Garcia’s desires, Donohue said the girl recalled.

Prosecutors described Ocampo, a student at Cal State University Dominguez Hills at the time of her arrest, as a groomer, someone who enticed young girls into Garcia’s orbit, then coerced them into sex and pornographic photo shoots in hotel rooms in Whittier and El Monte.

A second girl, Jane Doe 2, told agents that Ocampo instructed her to undress and serve Garcia coffee, Holmes testified. The girl walked into his office, naked and carrying a cup of coffee, and was raped by Garcia, the agent said she had told him. She was a virgin at the time, he testified.

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Jane Doe 2 had previously felt uncomfortable dancing for Garcia in lingerie, but she remembered how proud her mother was of her being part of the “service group,” Holmes testified. “The church would see that as a shameful thing, to be kicked out,” he said.

Questioned by Jackson, Garcia’s attorney, Holmes acknowledged that none of the girls recalled Garcia using violence in the encounters.

“No gun?” Jackson asked.

“Correct.”

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“No zip ties?”

“No zip ties.”

“No duct tape?”

“She didn’t tell me that.”

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Jackson grilled Holmes about a tryst the agent had described in a Beverly Hills hotel room with Garcia, Ocampo, an alleged victim he called Jane Doe 5, and a co-defendant who remains at large, Azalea Rangel Melendez. Holmes had testified that Rangel held Jane Doe 5’s hands behind her head as Ocampo penetrated her with a sex toy and Garcia looked on.

The agent conceded Jane Doe 5 was an adult at the time of the liaison. “Four adults with a dildo in Los Angeles isn’t illegal,” Jackson remarked. “It’s not really noteworthy, is it?”

Jackson criticized Plisner for her dealings with an alleged victim dubbed Jane Doe 4. Agents had described Jane Doe 4 as a onetime victim of Garcia, who eventually assumed a role in Mexico similar to Ocampo’s in Los Angeles, grooming a circle of girls for sex and pornographic photoshoots.

Jane Doe 4 has helped agents identify potential victims in videos seized from Garcia’s phone and given them hundreds of graphic text messages that she said she exchanged with Garcia, discussing sex with children and bestiality, according to copies of the messages filed in court.

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Plisner, Jackson told the court, had offered Jane Doe 4 immunity in the U.S. and an assurance she would intervene in any Mexican prosecution. He read aloud a WhatsApp message she had sent Jane Doe 4: “If they make you look like a defendant, it will be hard for us to make you look like a victim.” Jackson tried to call Plisner to the stand as a defense witness; Coen denied the attempt, saying it seemed intended only to embarrass the prosecution.

Jackson told the court that Jane Doe 4 was an embittered ex-parishioner with an ax to grind. After having a consensual sexual affair with Garcia for years, “now, she’s mad at the church — her words, she’s ‘mad at the church’ — and she’s going to cry foul,” he said.


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