LOS ANGELES -- Following the arrest this week of the leader of La Luz del Mundo church on sexual abuse and charges, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra on Thursday said that Naason Joaquin Garcia's unprecedented $50-million bail amount was merited.
At a news conference in Sacramento, the state's top prosecutor said Garcia's high bail reflects prosecutors' fear that the charismatic religious leader could flee if his Mexico-based church's followers -- who number in the millions, by some estimates -- try to raise money to spring him. Becerra said he believed Garcia's bail might be the highest imposed on someone in Los Angeles County.
He urged other potential victims to come forward.
"We have a great apprehension that Mr. Garcia will raise the money to get a bond to bail himself out," Becerra said. "We have provided the court information to back up the credible fear we have."
Louis Shapiro, a criminal defense attorney based in Century City, said that bail generally does not rise above $1 million or $2 million, and even that is not common and usually involves homicide cases. He called Garcia's bail figure "extraordinarily high."
"That's definitely the judge sending a message to the defense that you're going to have a pretty steep hill to climb on this one," Shapiro said.
Judges can set bail higher than the usual amount if they feel a defendant is likely to be a flight risk. In order to bail out of jail, Shapiro said, Garcia would have to provide 8% of the $50-million, or $4 million. The bail bondsman who handled his released could allow him to pay part of that amount over time.
Garcia, the international president of the largest evangelical church in Mexico, was arrested on Monday at Los Angeles International Airport on human trafficking, child porn, rape and other charges.
The arrest sparked emergency prayer services throughout the church's congregations, which call Garcia an "apostle" appointed by God to direct La Luz del Mundo.
During the news conference, Becerra asked for possible victims or others who might have relevant information to come forward.