Alleged groomer of teen victims in La Luz del Mundo sex abuse case says she was victim too
A woman accused of grooming teenage girls for the sexual pleasure of the head of La Luz del Mundo church has come forward and is now alleging through her attorney that she too was a victim.
Alondra Ocampo, who has reached a plea deal in the case set for trial in Los Angeles County Superior Court next month, suffered years of sexual abuse in the church as a minor, her attorney Fred Thiagarajah said.
Thiagarajah alleged in an interview that Ocampo was raped at age 8 by Samuel Joaquin Flores, a leader of La Luz del Mundo who was succeeded after his death in 2014 by his son, Naason Joaquin Garcia, the current head of the church. Both have been known by followers as “the apostle” of Jesus Christ.
Prosecutors have described Ocampo as someone who groomed girls who were later allegedly sexually assaulted by Garcia and coerced minors into pornographic photo shoots in hotel rooms in Whittier and El Monte. They’ve said the alleged victims were told that if they went against Garcia’s desires as the apostle they were going against God.
Thiagarajah said that Garcia, who has pleaded not guilty to sex abuse charges, had instructed Ocampo to provide him girls as she led a service group by the church’s East L.A. location. She did this, he said, out of fear and because she had been indoctrinated to believe that nothing mattered more than fulfilling Garcia’s wishes.
“For many, many years, she believed that the abuse that she suffered wasn’t even abuse — she thought it was a blessing,” Thiagarajah said.
Representatives for Garcia and the church balked at her new claims. In a statement, Alan Jackson, Garcia’s attorney, called Thiagarajah’s allegations “an outrageous attempt to taint the jury pool.”
“He and his client are desperately trying to curry favor with the prosecution by smearing my client in the press with salacious and false allegations,” he said. “As he has done from the beginning, Mr. Garcia vehemently denies the allegations against him and expects a fair trial.”
Jack Freeman, a spokesman for La Luz del Mundo, also said the church did not agree with the “patently false” claims made by Ocampo’s attorney.
“Throughout this process, we have maintained our respect for the court system of the state of California, and today more than ever we publicly reaffirm that the Apostle is innocent and his innocence will be proven in a court of law, despite the unethical tactics employed by others,” he said in a statement.
The California attorney general’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
In June 2019, Garcia, 51, Ocampo, 37, and Susana Medina Oaxaca, 25, were charged by the California attorney general’s office in a case in which prosecutors allege girls engaged in sexual activity with Garcia under duress from both women. The crimes allegedly occurred from June 2015 to June 2019 in L.A. County.
Garcia is being held in lieu of $90 million bail on counts that include human trafficking, forcible rape and forcible oral copulation of a minor, and possession of child pornography. Ocampo, who is being held without bail, pleaded guilty to four counts Oct. 13. These include three counts of contact with a minor for a sexual offense, involving three Jane Does, and one count of forcible sexual penetration, involving a fourth Jane Doe. Oaxaca, who has maintained she’s innocent, has been released on bail.
Garcia’s trial is set to begin Nov. 12. Thiagarajah and the attorney general’s office would not disclose the terms of Ocampo’s plea or say whether she will testify.
Legal experts say that she’s likely to testify if doing so gives her a more lenient sentence.
Louis Shapiro, a criminal defense attorney in L.A., said the strength of Ocampo’s testimony will rest on whether a jury finds her credible, including whether she appears remorseful.
“If it’s just he said, she said, and then you have a sweetheart deal that was made to get that going at trial, it may not be that persuasive to a jury,” he said. “They might be skeptical to that testimony because they know she had everything on the line.”
La Luz del Mundo church, based in Guadalajara, Mexico, and founded in 1926 by Garcia’s grandfather, claims more than 5 million followers worldwide, though some experts say that figure might be too high.
Before his death, Flores, Garcia’s father, had faced child sex abuse allegations in Mexico. He denied the claims and was never charged. In a federal civil lawsuit filed against La Luz del Mundo in February, Sochil Martin, a former member of the church, said that she had been offered by her aunt as a sexual servant to Flores, and later was pressured to please Garcia sexually too.
The church revolves around the apostle. Garcia’s initials are inscribed on congregants’ hymnals and shawls.
“Naason is the center of the ritual, the center of the beliefs, the center of the doctrine,” said Patricia Fortuny, a Mexican anthropologist who has studied the church for decades. “The apostle is the person that is closest to the divine.”
Joel Duran, a former youth minister for La Luz del Mundo from L.A. who has since left the church, said that children learn to revere the apostle through songs about how he is the chosen man of God.
The church, he said, instills fear in what may happen if someone goes against the apostle. After a member of Duran’s church spoke ill of the leader and stopped attending church, he got into a car accident. Congregants attributed it to him straying from the apostle, he said.
“We’re taught he’s a spiritual being — he can see through you, he knows all your sins, he can absolve you of your sins,” said Duran, 25. “He’s just this perfect being and we can’t question it.”
Freeman, the church spokesman, has told The Times that the church does not blacklist people if they decide to leave and that “free will and the ability to make your own decisions is a right that God has given us.”
Ocampo is now admitting to some of the prosecutors’ allegations — with her attorney saying it began with her own indoctrination.
Her parents joined the church when she was 1. From an early age, Ocampo, who was raised in L.A., was taught that the apostle was “the voice of God.”
At age 8, during a trip to Guadalajara, Thiagarajah said, Ocampo was separated from her family at a church celebration and spent the day with other children. At one point, a woman took her to a room where she met Flores.
The apostle put her on his lap and caressed her face before he raped her, according to Thiagarajah. She was crying and screaming, he said.
“It was extremely painful, but she was being told this is the voice to God and this is the way to heaven,” Thiagarajah said. “The voice of God was telling her, ‘You must keep this a secret.’”
The alleged abuse continued through Ocampo’s childhood during church-related trips to Mexico, sometimes with an adult female present. Ocampo continued having sexual relations with Flores as an adult, Thiagarajah said.
Thiagarajah said that at one point during Ocampo’s abuse as a minor, an object was inserted into her. She was told this was done so she’d be unable to conceive children — a way for the apostle to signal that Ocampo “belonged to him,” Thiagarajah said.
Ocampo never reported the alleged abuse to her family or to authorities, according to the attorney.
Thiagarajah said that a few years before his arrest, Garcia told Ocampo he wanted her to lead a church service group in East L.A. and procure girls for him. Ocampo came to preside over an exclusive group of about six girls, the attorney said.
“He identified which ones [girls] he liked and there was an understanding that Alondra would separate those,” Thiagarajah said.
Prosecutors allege that the group was known as “the dancers,” and its members would perform for Garcia while in lingerie or partially nude. Thiagarajah said Garcia would give Ocampo money to buy lingerie for pornographic photo shoots and that she would send him pictures of the girls.
“When those girls would tell Alondra they’re not comfortable in doing this, one of her retorts was, ‘People have different levels of faith,’” Thiagarajah said. “And that’s what she was told when she was a child.”
Another woman in the case has also been alleged to have groomed girls in the church after suffering sexual abuse: a complaining witness identified as Jane Doe 4.
Jane Doe 4, Garcia’s former assistant, was raped by the apostle, according to prosecutors. They allege that the first time the two had sex, she complied because she was scared of him and didn’t want to make him mad, thinking that doing so would make God angry.
She eventually became a groomer of a group of girls in Guadalajara, much like Ocampo in Los Angeles, prosecutors allege. They said she recruited members to the group, giving Garcia their biographical information and sending him sexual photos and videos of them.
She left the church after Garcia asked her to “provide” her sister to him, Troy Holmes, a special agent from the California Department of Justice, testified at the preliminary hearing.
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