The California Attorney General's Office dismissed sexual charges against the leader of a Mexico-based evangelical mega-church on Thursday, almost four months after an appeals court ruled that the case against him should be dismissed for technical reasons.
Naason Joaquin Garcia, the 51-year-old leader of La Luz del Mundo, was sentenced to a $ 50 million prison sentence, according to the Attorney General. He has been behind bars since his arrest by the Los Angeles airport police in June 2019.
The latest case – which includes six new charges against Garcia – accuses him of 23 crimes, including violent rape of a minor, violent verbal copulation of a person under the age of 18, unlawful intercourse, child abuse, extortion, conspiracy, and possession of child pornography.
The 37-year-old co-accused Alondra Ocampo is charged with 27 crimes, including violent rape of a minor, violent sexual penetration, human trafficking through the procurement of a child for lewd acts, production and distribution of child pornography, and contact with a minor for a sexual crime. Half a dozen of the charges against her are new, and she is being held in place of a $ 25 million bail.
Another woman, Susana Medina Oaxaca, 25, is charged with violent oral copulation of a person under 18 and oral copulation of a person under 18. It is free.
A fourth defendant, Azalea Rangel Melendez, continues to be charged with rape and violent oral copulation counts in the previous case. The authorities are still looking for her.
The lawsuit alleges that the crimes were committed between June 2015 and April 2018.
In April, a three-judge panel from the California 2nd District Court of Appeals found that Garcia was not waiving his right to a timely hearing to determine whether there was sufficient evidence to bring him to justice and the hearing did not take place within this time.
The California Attorney General's Office initially filed 14 charges against Garcia last year and agreed to delay his preliminary hearing. However, three additional charges were later added without Garcia waiving his right to a quick preliminary hearing.
The Court of Appeals found that if the defendant does not waive his right to a timely preliminary hearing, a court should find a good reason to continue.
"Here Garcia had a legal right to a preliminary hearing within 10 days of his indictment and appeal against the amended complaint. Since Garcia did not personally waive this right and the preliminary hearing did not take place within this 10 day period, he was . " entitled to reject the amended complaint … ", the court of appeal stated in its decision of April 7.
Two Los Angeles Supreme Court judges had refused the defense's offer to dismiss the amended complaint against Garcia and asked his lawyers to order the Court of Appeal to intervene.
The latest lawsuit claims the crimes were committed in Southern California between June 2015 and June 2019.
Prosecutors in the complaint allege that Ocampo told a group of underage girls that they would go against God if they violated any wishes or wishes of the "apostle" – Garcia.
The Attorney General's Office found that the hotline and online web form asking potential suspected victims to report are still active at https://oag.ca.gov/LLDM.
Ashley Valdez, a representative of the Evangelical Church, vehemently denied the allegations against the man who was viewed by the followers as the apostle of Jesus Christ.
"The Church categorically rejects any accusation against him," Valdez said earlier.
The Pentecostal sect based in Guadalajara has offices in 50 countries and has more than 1 million members worldwide.