LOS ANGELES - One after another, the agents from the California Department of Justice took the witness stand and related what the teenage girls and young women had told them: Naason Joaquin Garcia, the leader of La Luz Del Mundo, an international church headquartered in Mexico, had raped them.
After five days of testimony, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Ronald S. Coen on Tuesday found that prosecutors from the California Attorney General's office had gathered enough evidence to bind over for trial Garcia and two co-defendants, Alondra Ocampo and Susana Oaxaca, on all 36 counts of rape, child pornography, sex trafficking and extortion lodged against them.
All three have pleaded not guilty, arguing through their lawyers that the prosecution's case rests on the untested, uncorroborated word of accusers whom the authorities have refused to identify.
Garcia, a dual citizen of the United States and Mexico, succeeded his father in 2014 as the leader of La Luz Del Mundo. The church's followers, said to number in the millions, consider Garcia an "apostle" of Jesus Christ.
La Luz Del Mundo, Spanish for "The Light of the World," was founded nearly a century ago by Garcia's grandfather, Aaron Joaquin. In court papers, prosecutors said they believe sexual abuse has been perpetrated within La Luz Del Mundo since the 1970s.
When he took control of the church six years ago, Garcia "found himself at the head of an organized sex ring originated by his father (or perhaps grandfather)," Troy Holmes, a special agent for the California Department of Justice, wrote in a declaration.
In a statement, Jack Freeman, a minister and spokesman for the church, said the attorney general's office has presented only "suspicions" based on "anonymous witnesses alleging outlandish claims."
"Blatant hearsay does not amount to truth," he said, predicting that as the case moves through the courts, "the innocence and honorability of the Apostle of Jesus Christ Naason Joaquin Garcia will be proven."
Over five days, Holmes and several other agents related the accounts of Garcia's unidentified alleged victims. These "Jane Does," several of whom attended a La Luz Del Mundo church in East Los Angeles, described a circumscribed religious community outside of which they had no friends or social life. Some of the girls' families had belonged to the church for generations, the agents said.
Such an insular congregation made leaving the church - and escaping Garcia's abuse - extremely difficult, Deputy Attorney General Amanda Plisner told the court.