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US, Mexico shaken by child porn charges against La Luz Del Mundo church leader

Leila Miller, Jaclyn Cosgrove, Hannah Fry and Patrick J. McDonnell, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Religious News

LOS ANGELES -- The arrest of the leader of the La Luz Del Mundo church following allegations that he sexually abused children and solicited sexually explicit photos of minors has sent shock waves through Mexico and the United States.

Naason Joaquin Garcia, 50, and co-defendants Alondra Ocampo, Azalea Rangel Melendez and Susana Medina Oaxaca -- all of whom are affiliated with the religious organization headquartered in the Mexican city of Guadalajara -- are alleged to have committed 26 felonies, including human trafficking, production of child pornography and forcible rape of a minor, in Los Angeles County between 2015 and 2018.

A day after the charges were announced, Mexico's President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador faced scrutiny about a concert earlier this month at the Palacio de Bellas Artes that appeared to be a tribute to Garcia. The government had given permission for the space to be rented for the event.

Lopez Obrador responded that authorities in Mexico did not have the information that came to light Tuesday when Garcia was taken into custody at Los Angeles International Airport.

"What I can say is my conscience is at peace, because I am a supporter of respect and tolerance," he said. "That is what I defend."

Garcia, Ocampo, 36, and Oaxaca, 24, were scheduled to be arraigned in downtown Los Angeles later Wednesday. Melendez remains at large, authorities said.

 

Prosecutors allege Garcia and his co-defendants committed sex crimes locally for years while leading La Luz Del Mundo. The organization, which claims more than 1 million followers worldwide, has churches in East and West L.A.

The church -- formed in 1926 -- has been the subject of controversy for decades, as it has spread from Mexico into California and other areas. In the past, critics have compared it to a cult that preys on the poor. Samuel Joaquin Flores, Garcia's father and predecessor who died in 2014, was previously the subject of child sex abuse allegations that he adamantly denied. He never faced charges.

La Luz Del Mundo, which translates to the Light of the World, names Garcia on the church's website as its international president. Garcia is described on the site as having "dedicated his life to serving God from a young age."

Garcia served as a role model for other youths, "bringing a message of love and salvation to people's souls" and was sent as a missionary to Spain and Portugal, according to the site.

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