The Mexico-based La Luz del Mundo church mentioned Wednesday that its chief and “apostle” Naason Joaquin Garcia, who was arrested in California on costs of human trafficking and baby rape, stays the religious chief of the group, which claims 5 million followers in 58 international locations. It additionally strongly denied the fees.
“We consider these accusations are defamation and slander of our worldwide director, the apostle of Jesus Christ,” mentioned church spokesman Silem Garcia, who is just not associated to Joaquin Garcia. “His place as apostle of Jesus Christ was given to him by God, and for all times, and he continues to steer the church.”
Joaquin Garcia, 50, and a follower of the church, Susana Medina Oaxaca, 24, have been arrested Monday after their chartered flight from Mexico landed at Los Angeles Worldwide Airport.
A 3rd defendant, Alondra Ocampo, 36, was arrested in Los Angeles County and a fourth, Azalea Rangel Melendez, stays at giant.
The group faces a 26-count felony grievance with allegations that vary from human trafficking and manufacturing of kid pornography to rape of a minor. The fees element allegations involving three women and one girl between 2015 and 2018 in Los Angeles County.
A choose raised Joaquin Garcia’s bail Tuesday from $25 million to $50 million after investigators performed further search warrants.
His lawyer, Dmitry Gorin, mentioned he’s had homicide instances with decrease bail and referred to as the determine “outrageous” and “unreasonable” Wednesday at Joaquin Garcia’s arraignment in Los Angeles Superior Court docket.
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The defendants’ arraignment was prolonged to subsequent Monday. They didn’t enter pleas on the listening to, the place relations _ together with Joaquin Garcia’s spouse and three youngsters — and greater than a dozen congregants have been within the viewers.
Joaquin Garcia answered Decide Francis Bennett’s questions by way of a Spanish interpreter whereas his co-defendants responded softly in English. His household waved as he walked out of the courtroom earlier than a bailiff admonished them.
California Legal professional Normal Xavier Becerra scheduled a information convention in Sacramento on Thursday to induce further victims to return ahead.
The fundamentalist Christian church, whose identify interprets to The Mild of the World, was based in 1926 by Joaquin Garcia’s grandfather. His father additionally led the church and was the topic of kid intercourse abuse allegations in 1997, however authorities in Mexico by no means filed felony costs.
The accusations have been significantly painful for a church that has tried to domesticate a picture for its law-abiding, hard-working, conservatively-dressing folks in Mexico — a rustic the place it claims about 1.eight million followers. Its male members favour fits and quick hair, and feminine members put on veils that cowl their hair and modest attire. There are about 1 million U.S. members.
“We have now at all times inspired prayer, honesty,” mentioned Mexico Metropolis church member Ruben Barrera. “Have a look at the way in which we costume, it is vitally sincere, the haircuts, the way in which the ladies costume. We follow what we preach.”
Barrera mentioned that based mostly on his information of Joaquin Garcia’s life, he believes the accusations are “categorically” false.
The church has itself been the topic of discrimination in Mexico, partly as a result of it has recruited considerably from Mexico’s decrease courses and since many within the predominantly Roman Catholic Nation are suspicious of non secular minorities.
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However within the western metropolis of Guadalajara the place it’s based mostly, housewives search out Luz del Mundo followers to work as maids, due to their status for honesty. When requested why the church has so many well-appointed temples in Mexico, Garcia, the spokesman mentioned “that’s as a result of the trustworthy” –a lot of whom are development staff — “are those who do the development.”
Round 1,000 worshippers gathered on the headquarters of La Luz del starting in Guadalajara starting Tuesday night to hope for Joaquin Garcia as he was held in Los Angeles. Spiritual providers have been held hourly in its white, wedding ceremony cake-like cathedral.
Nicolas Menchaca, one other spokesman, mentioned the church trusts the justice system in California: “We consider they’ll do their job and that they’ll arrive at a beneficial conclusion.”
Joaquin Garcia is called in 14 counts and Ocampo in 21. Oaxaca and Melendez are every named in two counts.
Joaquin Garcia — who was a minister in Los Angeles and different elements of Southern California earlier than turning into the church’s chief — coerced the victims into performing intercourse acts by telling them that refusing could be going in opposition to God, authorities mentioned.
He allegedly pressured the victims, who have been members of the church, to sexually contact themselves and one another. Considered one of his co-defendants additionally allegedly took nude pictures of the victims and despatched the images to Garcia, the felony grievance mentioned.
Joaquin Garcia informed one of many victims and others in 2017, after they’d accomplished a “flirty” dance sporting “as little clothes as doable,” that kings can have mistresses and an apostle of God can’t be judged for his actions, the grievance acknowledged.
“Crimes like these alleged on this grievance don’t have any place in our society. Interval,” Becerra, the California lawyer basic, mentioned in an announcement. “We should not flip a blind eye to sexual violence and trafficking in our state.”
The lawyer basic’s investigation started in 2018, prompted partly by a tip to the California Division of Justice by way of an internet clergy abuse grievance kind.
The arrest is bound to show a humiliation for Mexico, partly as a result of comparable allegations have by no means resulted in costs there and partly as a result of the church has lengthy had political affect.
“It exhibits the large distinction between the standard of legislation enforcement in Mexico and america,” mentioned sociologist Bernardo Barranco of the Middle for the Research of Religions in Mexico. “In Mexico, sadly, there’s an innate safety for clergy, not only for the Luz del Mundo.”
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In Could, an opera live performance at Palacio de Bellas Artes, the principle cultural venue in Mexico, generated controversy as a result of in some locations it was introduced as a tribute to Joaquin Garcia. Critics mentioned a secular state similar to Mexico mustn’t use a public place for that function.
The work, “The Guardian of the Mirror,” was broadcast on social networks and screened exterior the Palace, with the church’s followers within the viewers.
La Luz del Mundo denied that it was an homage and mentioned the opinions expressed in social networks weren’t promoted by the establishment.
Mexico’s former ruling Institutional Revolutionary Social gathering, the PRI, lengthy supported Luz del Mundo as a counterweight to the Roman Catholic Church, whose followers led an armed rebellion in opposition to anti-clerical legal guidelines within the 1920s.
That relationship cooled after the PRI grew to become friendlier with the Catholic church between 2012 and 2018, however new leftist President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has proven extra openness to protestant and evangelical church buildings than his predecessors. He took workplace late final 12 months.
Requested concerning the arrest on Wednesday, Lopez Obrador mentioned “we didn’t know, or at the very least authorities didn’t have data, about what was made public yesterday,” including “my conscience is obvious.”