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California

Mexican megachurch leader returns to court in sex abuse case

Joaquin Garcia
Naason Joaquin Garcia greets members of his church La Luz del Mundo in Guadalajara, Mexico, in August 2018. Garcia has been charged with human trafficking and child rape.
(AP)

The leader of Mexican megachurch La Luz del Mundo is scheduled to return to court Friday in a child rape and human trafficking case.

Naason Joaquin Garcia and his co-defendants were arrested earlier this month on suspicion of child rape, statutory rape, molestation, human trafficking, child pornography and extortion. The charges in the 26-count felony complaint detail allegations involving three girls and one woman between 2015 and 2018 in Los Angeles County.

The defendants will appear in Los Angeles Superior Court for an arraignment and bail review hearing.

Joaquin Garcia, Susana Medina Oaxaca and Alondra Ocampo have not entered pleas, though their attorneys have denied any wrongdoing. They have appeared in superior court twice already.

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Joaquin Garcia is being held on $50-million bail, believed to be the highest ever set in Los Angeles County.

California Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra has said he believes there might be more victims in the case and urged them to come forward. He repeatedly called Joaquin Garcia “sick” and “demented,” which defense attorneys claim may have tainted a potential jury.

Prosecutors have asked a judge to bar the defense attorneys from working closely and sharing information with members of the church. Deputy Atty. Gen. Amanda Plisner said the attorney general’s office also is worried the church may try to identify the victims.

The defense attorneys have said the request is inappropriate. Judge Francis Bennett ordered the sides to compromise.

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