California’s top prosecutor said on Thursday, June 7, that he believes there are more victims of child sex abuse than those listed in the charges against the leader of Mexico-based megachurch La Luz del Mundo and several followers.
La Luz del Mundo leader Naasón Joaquín García and two co-defendants were arrested in California this week and a fourth remains at large.
They face a 26-count felony complaint that alleges crimes including child rape, statutory rape, molestation, human trafficking, child pornography, and extortion.
A church spokesman has denounced the charges as slander and defamation and said García remains the spiritual leader of La Luz del Mundo, which claims more than 5 million members worldwide.
Those in custody made their first court appearance in Los Angeles on Wednesday, June 5, but did not enter pleas.
Bail for García was doubled to $50 million after prosecutors presented evidence that he could flee the United States, Attorney General Xavier Becerra said.
The attorney general said the extraordinary bail amount, believed to be the largest ever set in Los Angeles County, was requested because of a “credible fear” that García could raise bond money from his many followers.
The four victims cited in the complaint were members of the church in Los Angeles County, he said.
Becerra also explained, “Joaquín García was arrested following an investigation into those alleged crimes, the type of crimes that belong nowhere in our society. From human trafficking, production of child pornography, oral copulation, rape, statutory rape, child molestation, extortion, conspiracy, and more.”
García—who was a minister in Los Angeles and other parts of Southern California before becoming the church’s leader—coerced the victims into performing sex acts by telling them that refusing would be going against God, authorities said.
The attorney general said the investigation resulted from a tip that came in through a website seeking victims of clergy sex abuse.
The defendants’ arraignment is set for Monday, June 10.