An associate pastor at a church in Norwalk arrested on suspicion of sexually assaulting 20 female parishioners may have many more victims who've yet to be identified, authorities said Thursday.
Jorge Juan Castro, 53, was arrested Friday on allegations that during his eight years as associate pastor at Las Buenas Nuevas Church in Norwalk he assaulted the parishioners.
Detectives said of the 20 alleged victims have provided investigators with detailed accounts of sex acts that the pastor told were neccesary for his "healing hands."
LA County Sheriff officials said detectives, who began their investigation April 8, believe there may be additional victims from the Norwalk church and a second location where Castro was sent to preach.
"He has a large number of victims and we suspect there are more. We'd like many more of those victims to come forward to us. They have nothing to fear," said Sheriff's Capt Robert Esson, who oversees the sheriff's Special Victims Unit.
Esson said the alleged crimes stretch from 2004 to September 2012. Detectives in the Special Victims Unit began investigating Castro when a person whom many of the alleged victims had confided in informed authorities and convinced some to speak to detectives.
Detectives say that so far, four of the Spanish-speaking congregation have provided evidence to detectives and their allegations led to the charges, officials said. Prosecutors on Sept. 13 charged Castro with rape, four counts of oral copulation involving one woman and another count of sexual penetration with foreign object involving a second woman.
He delayed entering a plea in a court appearance last Friday and is due back in court Oct. 16.
Investigators said the pastor told the alleged victims who questioned the sex acts that they were part of the faith-healing process.
"He claimed to have healing hands and utilized that process to eventually sexually assault them," 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."
Castro also allegedly threatened to have the women — who ranged in age from 18 to 39 — deported if they spoke out, Esson added.
Church leaders removed Castro from the church upon learning of the investigation, Esson said.
"The church and the senior pastor here worked with us. ... We've been to services and spoken [to the parishioners]. We assured everyone they need not be concerned about deportation," Esson said. "This is about this pastor's crimes."
After surveillance by undercover major-crimes detectives, Castro was arrested last week at his home in Norwalk and booked on charges of rape, penetration by a foreign object and oral copulation.
Castro came to the United States from Argentina in 2004. Soon after, the alleged sex crimes began, Esson said.
Authorities in Riverside County are now also investigating his term at a church in Moreno Valley, which has been alerted, Esson said.
Esson said anyone with information can contact the detectives at (877)710-5273 or email Specialvictims@lasd.org or anonymously call (800) 222-TIPS or text the letters TIPLA plus your tip to CRIMES (274637)