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Judge increases bail for La Luz del Mundo leader to $90 million

(RNS) California Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra on July 30 refiled charges against Naasón Joaquín García, months after a California appeals court dismissed García’s criminal case on procedural grounds.

In this July 15, 2019, file photo, Naasón Joaquín García, the leader of La Luz del Mundo, Mexico-based evangelical church with a worldwide membership, attends a bail review hearing in Los Angeles Superior Court. (Al Seib/Los Angeles Times via AP, Pool, File)

LOS ANGELES (RNS) — A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge on Thursday (Aug. 6) increased the bail for the leader of the Mexico-based megachurch La Luz del Mundo to $90 million after the state attorney general filed new sex crime charges against him.

The California attorney general’s office confirmed with Religion News Service the new bail amount set for Naasón Joaquín García after his court hearing on Thursday. García had been booked on $50 million bail.

California Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra on July 30 refiled charges against García and his co-defendants Alondra Ocampo and Susana Medina Oaxaca, months after a California appeals court dismissed García’s criminal case on procedural grounds.

Ocampo’s bail was lowered from $25 million to $10 million, the state attorney general’s office said.

La Luz del Mundo in a statement issued Thursday evening said the bail increase converted García’s “constitutional right to bail to an anticipated sentence.

“We would like to recall the basic rights guaranteed in the cornerstone of the American justice system, ‘innocent until proven guilty,’ words that reign as a cardinal principle in our society for all those alleged to have committed a crime,” the statement read.

García and Ocampo were already in custody in Los Angeles County before prosecutors refiled the charges. Oaxaca remains out on bail, and her bond has been transferred to the new case.

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Judge George Lomelí warned the allegations against García were “extremely serious” and said his position with La Luz del Mundo puts the alleged victims at risk, according to Univision.  

García and his co-defendants were arrested in June 2019 on accusations of child rape, lewd acts and human trafficking involving three girls and one woman between 2015 and 2018 in Los Angeles County. Additional allegations of the possession of child pornography in 2019 were later added.

Naasón Joaquín García, right, the leader of fundamentalist Mexico-based church La Luz del Mundo, appears in Los Angeles County Superior Court on June 5, 2019, before Judge Francis Bennett on charges of human trafficking and child rape. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

The new complaint, filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court, brings the total number of felony counts against the three defendants to 36.

The refiled charges identify a new and fifth victim as Jane Doe 5, who, according to the complaint, was sexually abused by García and Ocampo between February 2016 and November 2017. In the complaint, García and Ocampo are accused of forcibly committing oral copulation with and raping Jane Doe 5.

The complaint also includes details of Ocampo taking photos of minor girls “touching each other sexually at her direction” to send the photographs to García.

According to the complaint, Ocampo directed one of the victims, along with other minors, to perform “flirty” dances for García while wearing as little clothing as possible.

After the dance, García “gave them a speech about a king having mistresses and stated that an apostle of god can never be judged for his actions,” said the complaint.

Founded in 1926 by García’s grandfather, Eusebio Joaquín González, La Luz del Mundo rejects the Christian concept of the Trinity. It teaches that Jesus is God’s son and that church leaders, like García, his father and grandfather, are his apostles.

They eschew religious symbolism, viewing crucifixes as idolatry. During worship, genders are segregated in the pews, and women cover their hair and wear long, modest skirts.

Followers of La Luz del Mundo do not celebrate Christmas or Easter, but they do recognize the birthdays of García and the other apostles.

In February, a former member of La Luz del Mundo sued the church and more than a dozen of its leaders, alleging decades of abuse at the hands of the group’s leaders.

In the lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in California, Sochil Martin alleges that her aunt and a foster mother “groomed her to serve as an erotic dancer and sexual servant,” first to Samuel Joaquín Flores, the church apostle and leader, who died in 2014, and later to Flores’ successor, Naasón Joaquín García, the church’s current apostle.

Aysha Khan and the Associated Press contributed to this report.