The leader of Mexican megachurch La Luz del Mundo was sentenced to nearly 17 years in prison on Wednesday for sexually abusing young female followers.
Naasón Joaquín García,53, known as “The Apostle of Jesus Christ” by members of his congregation initially faced 23 charges of sex crimes against children, including rape and conspiracy to engage in human trafficking, according to Insider.
However, three days before the trial was set to begin in Los Angeles, Cali., Garcìa took a guilty plea deal with the California District Attorney’s office that reduced his charges to two counts of forcible oral copulation involving minors and one count of a lewd act on a child who was 15.
He was sentenced to 16 years and 8 months in prison on Wednesday.
Prosecutors say Garcìa used his position to have sex with girls and young women who were told it would lead to their salvation or damnation if they refused.
Five young women, including one who identified herself as his niece, testified that he had made them his sex slaves. They called him “evil,” a “monster,” “disgusting human waste” and the “Antichrist.”
“I worshipped my abuser,” Jane Doe 4 said. “He used me over and over again like a sacrificial lamb taken to slaughter.”
When the women came forward, they said they were called sluts and whores and was isolated and shunned by the church community, including members of their own families.
“Being called an apostate was the worst of the worst and you would go to hell no matter what,” Jane Doe 2 said.
The survivors begged Judge Ronald Coen to reject the plea deal and impose a longer sentence but he told them his “hands were tied.”
“My hands are tied. Lawyers will do what lawyers do,” Judge Coen said.
“But I just want to tell all the Jane Does that the world has heard you. I promise you that,” he added. “As to those family members that have abandoned the Jane Does: Shame! Shame on you!”
Judge Coen then looked directly at Garcìa and called him a “sexual predator,” adding, “I’ll never cease to be amazed at what some people do in the name of religion, and how lives are ruined in the guise of serving a supreme being.”
However, the megachurch, also known as the Light of the World, issued a statement on Wednesday in support of García claiming he only pleaded guilty to the counts because he did not think he would receive a fair trial because prosecutors withheld or doctored evidence.
“The Apostle of Jesus Christ has had no choice but to accept with much pain that the agreement presented is the best way forward to protect the church and his family,” the statement said.
Garcìa became “apostle” in 2014 following the death of his father who was also the subject of child sex abuse allegations in 1997, but no charges were filed.
Two other members of the church, Susana Medina Oaxaca and Alondra Ocampo, were also arrested with Garcìa in 2019 and have reached their own plea deals, according to Reuters.
The Guadalajara-based megachurch has several chapters worldwide and in the United States in Arizona, Texas, Alaska, Florida, Virginia, Utah and Kentucky. But its congregation is strongest in parts of California that have large a Hispanic population.