LOS ANGELES -- Prosecutors are poring through dozens of digital devices as they build their case against the leader of La Luz del Mundo church, a man known by followers as "the apostle" of Jesus Christ and who has been charged with various counts of sex abuse, including forcible rape of a minor.
They claim that Naason Joaquin Garcia, 50, has received numerous child pornography images and videos. But what they have discovered is just the "tip of the iceberg," said Deputy Attorney General Amanda Plisner.
At a Superior Court hearing Friday in downtown Los Angeles, Plisner cited an ongoing investigation in requesting that the possibility of posting bail not be made available to Garcia, currently detained on what's believed to be the highest bail in L.A. County. As they uncover more evidence, she said, prosecutors expect the scope of the original accusation will swell.
Judge Teresa Sullivan called her petition "well-founded" but decided not to make immediate changes to Garcia's $50 million bail or that of his co-defendant, Alondra Ocampo, 36, who had a $25 million bail. She did reduce the bail of a third defendant, Susana Medina Oaxaca, 24, from $5 million to $150,000.
The case will return to court July 15 for further bail review. All three defendants have pleaded not guilty, and a fourth remains at large.
The 26-felony count complaint filed against Garcia and his co-defendants in early June describes how women allegedly helped procure and prepare young girls for the pleasure of the apostle. Its charges include human trafficking, production of child pornography and forcible rape of a minor, all of which are alleged to have occurred in L.A. County between 2015 and 2018.
Plisner said that Garcia leveraged his status as the head of a church that claims more than 5 million followers. Girls, she said, are taught that "there is nothing better in life than to do something to please defendant Garcia.
"He used that position of power to take advantage of and exploit young women whose parents were unwilling to protect them," she said, arguing that, if out of custody, he would pose a risk to hundreds of girls.
Garcia's attorneys lashed back. Lead counsel Ken Rosenfeld told reporters that thousands of female church members are ready to testify for Garcia.
"That was four against 5 million," he said, referring to the number of alleged victims. "This idea of a systemic breeding or systemic pattern of abuse is going to be contradicted."