The leader of the La Luz del Mundo church has been sentenced to 16 years and eight months in prison for child sexual abuse. A judge has accepted this Wednesday the agreement between the California Prosecutor’s Office and the lawyers of Naasón Joaquín García, who confessed to having forced two girls to perform oral sex on him and another charge of having committed lewd acts with a minor in exchange for getting rid of go to trial in the United States.
The sentence puts an end to a criminal process that has lasted three years and buries the possibility that the apostle of Jesus Christ, as he is known among his followers, will answer for other accusations such as human trafficking, rape, extortion and possession of pornography. childish. Had he been found guilty of all these crimes, the religious minister could have spent the rest of his life in prison.
“I’m here to remind you of all the sick things you forced me to do that I haven’t been able to forget,” one victim recounted through tears. “You abused me in the sickest ways possible.” “You destroyed my life.” One by one, the sentences of her testimony and those of other complainants resounded in court, without Joaquín García even turning to see them. He has not dared to look any of the women who confronted him in court in the eye.
“I apologize, my hands are tied”, recognized Judge Ronald Coen, when he handed down the sentence and reprimanded the Prosecutor for “abandoning the victims”. It has also been ordered to compensate the complainants. “You are a sexual predator,” added Coen. The sentence already considers the three years that Joaquín García has spent in prison, which anticipates that he may regain control of the organization, which claims to have five million followers in more than 50 countries, once he is released. Despite the accusations and the fact that he has faced the entire process behind bars, the 53-year-old self-proclaimed “servant of God” has maintained power in running the congregation.
The hearing has been held under strict security measures, being one of the most high-profile cases in California in recent years, and under the gaze of complainants, lawyers and high-ranking church officials. “She was a girl”, another of the victims has claimed. “You raped and abused me for so long.” “You stripped me of my dignity.” “I will have to live with the scars of Naason’s abuse forever.” “I hate my body, I can’t even see it, every part your dirty hands touched.” Stories of shattered and predominantly humble families – abused spiritually, sexually and financially – have filled the room.
Joaquín García’s confession occurred last Friday, less than 72 hours before the trial began in a Los Angeles court, and was an unexpected turn in the largest case in memory against a Mexican religious. The leader of La Luz del Mundo admitted his guilt in only three of 19 charges against him. Originally, he was charged with 36 crimes. The possibility of an agreement seemed remote until last week: the Prosecutor’s Office set his bail at 90 million dollars, “the highest in history” in California, and signed a collaboration agreement with Alondra Ocampo, his co-defendant and main accomplice, in exchange for a reduced sentence. “Naasón Joaquín García is insane,” said then-Attorney General Xavier Becerra, now an official in the Joe Biden Administration, in 2019.
Five complainants, almost all minors at the time the reported abuses occurred, hoped that the trial would give them the opportunity to tell their story for the first time. That opportunity came at this morning’s hearing, marked by harrowing testimony demanding justice. The preliminary hearings had uncovered images of child pornography, explicit videos starring Joaquín García and testimonies that put the minister of worship on the ropes. “You stole my innocence,” said one of the complainants. “You are a disgrace to humanity, you stalk your victims among those who love and venerate you most, including my own family, you are a monster.”
The apostle was accused of having a group of “maidens”, girls and adolescents who were recruited by faithful of his organization and who were coerced until they were abused by the apostle. They were asked to do suggestive dances, take pictures of themselves in lingerie, get massages and have sex, even though they explicitly refused. “Naasón Joaquín García gave them a speech about how a king has several lovers and affirmed that, being an apostle of God, he could never be judged for his actions,” read testimony from an FBI agent during the hearings. preliminaries. The abuses date back to 2015, a year after the defendant took over as church leader. He took seven years to hear the truth.
The church has maintained since his arrest three years ago that its leader was “honorable” and “innocent” and has remained silent in the face of last week’s confession. “They told us that the accusations were the work of the devil,” says Elisa Flores, who left the cult early last year. “We had to consecrate [orar] 24 hours a day to ask to be released, “he adds. This is what hundreds of faithful have done in Hermosa Provincia, in the Mexican city of Guadalajara. Some spokespersons justified in a personal capacity that the plea agreement is a consequence of “there were no guarantees of a fair trial” and fuel the narrative that their leader, now a confessed sexual aggressor, is a martyr. For believers, the apostle is a living god: infallible, unquestionable and holy. “Anyone who still believes that this man is a god on Earth is an accomplice and is supporting a child molester,” one of the prosecutors said at the start of the hearing.
One of the most repeated phrases during the hearing was “you are not a god”. “I thought the church was a safe place, but it turned into a nightmare,” said another complainant. “Naasón, you are a coward”, she has complained, distraught. “Here we are, look at us.” “You never showed remorse.” A woman who also reported abuse has sentenced Joaquín García: “You used me as your sex slave, you took everything from me (…) I wish you had killed me to put an end to this suffering.”
Three other women were identified as groomers, assistants who instigated the abuses: Ocampo, Susana Medina Oaxaca and Azalea Rangel. Medina Oaxaca reached another agreement last week with the Prosecutor’s Office, in which she admitted a misdemeanor of injuries and spent a year on probation in exchange for avoiding being tried. Rangel remains a fugitive and sources close to her case place her in Mexico, where the church was founded in the 1920s and has the largest number of her followers, where she keeps a low profile. Still, Rob Bonta, the current California attorney general, defended the plea bargain as a victory. “Naasón Joaquín García used his power to take advantage of children,” Bonta said. “This conviction can never undo the damage, but it will help protect future generations,” he added in a statement.
“What did I do to you to make you rape my daughter?” Said the mother of a complainant in Spanish. The woman described that the happiest day of her daughter’s life was her when she was chosen in the group of maidens. She later identified signs of the abuse and confronted Joaquín. “You told us we were nothing,” she recalled. “I realized why my daughter didn’t want to go anymore. Every time she went to her house, she raped her.” “Why did she do this to innocent girls who loved him?”
For dozens of former members who have risked their lives to speak out against abuses committed in the name of the church, where girls were told that serving and being touched by the “apostle” was “a blessing”, punishment is not enough and the agree, “a mockery”. Julie Joaquín, niece of the religious minister, also said she had suffered abuse at a press conference on Tuesday: “It is a very dangerous sect, I have already lost most of my family.” Sochil Martin, the first woman who uncovered the scandal, assures that there are “hundreds or perhaps thousands of victims” and she has declared when leaving the courts that she fears reprisals from the followers and the leadership of the church.
The settlement in the United States leaves the investigations in Mexico against the leadership of the church and Joaquín García, who settled connections across the political spectrum throughout the continent, up in the air. The organization was denounced for money laundering by the Ministry of Finance and a mirror investigation was opened for organized crime in the Attorney General’s Office, but no progress has been announced for months. Samuel Joaquín, father of Naasón and leader of the church for 50 years, was also accused of abuse, but the complaints never reached the Mexican courts. Eusebio Joaquín, his grandfather and founder of the church, was questioned about other sexual scandals, which were not formally investigated either, but produced a schism in the organization. And there is still a lawsuit in a US court for acting as a “criminal organization.” The trial in California opened the door to achieve what had not been achieved across the border in decades. Now there is a confession and a sentence, but the victims have made it clear that justice has not been done.
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