California prosecutors on Tuesday announced that a top leader of the La Luz Del Mundo religious organization based in Mexico was arrested on suspicion of human trafficking, production of child pornography, forcible rape of a minor and other felonies.
Naason Joaquin Garcia, a leader of the organization that claims more than 1 million followers worldwide, and co-defendants Alondra Ocampo, Azalea Rangel Melendez and Susana Medina Oaxaca – all of whom are affiliated with La Luz Del Mundo – are alleged to have committed 26 felonies in Southern California between 2015 and 2018.
"Crimes like those alleged in this complaint have no place in our society. Period," said California Attorney General Xavier Becerra. "We must not turn a blind eye to sexual violence and trafficking in our state. At the California Department of Justice, we will do everything we can to prevent and combat these heinous crimes so that our communities are safe. If you see something, report it and we will vigorously pursue justice."
Prosecutors say Garcia and his co-defendants committed the crimes while leading La Luz Del Mundo, an international religious organization headquartered in Mexico.
"Garcia and his co-defendants allegedly coerced victims into performing sexual acts by telling them that if they went against any of his desires or wishes as 'the Apostle,' that they were going against God," the attorney general said in a statement.
The organization – formed in Mexico in 1926 – has been the subject of controversy for years, as it has spread from Mexico into California and other places.
In the past, critics have compared it to a cult that preys on the poor.