The imprisoned leader of a Mexican megachurch, who is serving over 16 years in a California prison for sexual abuse of young followers
The imprisoned leader of a Mexican megachurch, who is serving over 16 years in a California prison for sexual abuse of young followers, has been charged with two federal crimes related to the production of child pornography.
A federal grand jury in Los Angeles on Wednesday charged 54-year-old Naason Joaquin Garcia with two counts of producing and possessing child pornography involving a 16-year-old member of his church, according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney's Office.
When Garcia was arrested in 2019, prosecutors said he had an iPad containing five videos showing an underage girl engaged in sexual activity.
"We did not bring charges until the state case was concluded," the U.S. Attorney's Office said in an email to The Associated Press.
Garcia leads the La Luz del Mundo ("Light of the World") megachurch, which claims to have 5 million followers worldwide, including in the United States. Followers consider him to be an "apostle" of Jesus Christ. It is Mexico's largest evangelical church, founded by Garcia's grandfather in the 1920s.
However, California prosecutors allege that Garcia used his spiritual influence to engage in sexual acts with girls and young women, telling them it would lead to their salvation—or damnation if they refused.
An email from The Associated Press seeking comment from the church about the new federal charges was not immediately returned on Wednesday.
The church publicly supported Garcia and in June 2022, posted a statement on Twitter saying, "Our confidence in him remains unchanged, as we are fully aware of his honesty, his conduct, and his work."
Garcia is currently serving his prison sentence at the California Institution for Men in Chino. Last year, he pleaded guilty to two counts of forcible oral copulation of a minor and one count of lewd act upon a child under 15. Garcia was registered as a sex offender for life.
In exchange for Garcia's guilty plea, the California Attorney General's Office dropped 16 other charges, including child rape and human trafficking for the production of child pornography.
Several of Garcia's accusers, identified in court only as Jane Does and who are now young adults, spoke at his sentencing and criticized the plea deal as too lenient. They also claimed they were not consulted about the deal Garcia reached with the California Attorney General's Office.
In June, former parishioners and those with relatives in the church protested outside the La Luz del Mundo church in East Los Angeles, alleging that abuses were still taking place within the church. Some protesters also claimed that they or their family members had been victims of sexual abuse.
However, Garcia has followers who continue to defend his leadership, with one stating in a Noticias Telemundo interview last year that "his honor is not in question."
The violence within the La Luz del Mundo church became the subject of an HBO documentary in 2022 called "Unveiled: Surviving La Luz del Mundo" and a Netflix documentary in 2023 called "Darkness Inside La Luz del Mundo."
If Garcia is found guilty of the federal charges, he could face 15 to 30 years in prison for the production of child pornography and up to 10 years for its possession, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office. The judge will decide whether he serves this sentence concurrently or in addition to his state sentence.
In an interview with Noticias Telemundo after Garcia's conviction in 2022, attorney Jonathan Edelstein said that the accusers planned to file civil lawsuits against other church officials, alleging their involvement in the abuses.