La Luz Del Mundo (LLDM) church members claim to have over one million followers worldwide. Naason Joaquin Garcia is a leader of all the church’s locations. On Tuesday, he was arrested and charged with human trafficking and sexual abuse against minors by the California Attorney General, Xavier Becerra.
Three women who are allegedly members of the church were also charged with sexual abuse against minors: Alondra Ocampo, Susana Medina Oaxaca and Rangel Melendez, who has not yet been apprehended.
“Make no mistake,” said Becerra at Thursday’s news conference, “We are going to act vigorously to prosecute these individuals and bring this case to a close.”
The Attorney General claims human trafficking cases are growing and this is a very serious issue that needs to be dealt with head on. He adds however, “These charges at this point are only allegations.”
To church members, Garcia is seen as the Apostle of God. Timothy Guevara is an LLDM missionary born in the church at its Silver Spring, Maryland location. He said being a member changed his life positively.
“The people don’t understand,” said Guevara,” They think we just believe in him (Garcia) as a person, as an actual being. But we believe in the authority in him. The authority God has given him.”
LLDM church members in Silver Spring said they believe Garcia has divine influence from God. However, they say they follow God first and foremost, and will continue church services while Garcia is being held.
Garcia is held with a $50 million bail, increased from an original bail of $25 million. Prosecutors said they raised the bail because they do not want Garcia to flee the country. James Papirmesiter, a Silver Spring attorney that looked at the case, said the bail amount is absurd.
“Everyone is innocent until proven guilty and at this point these allegations could very well be false,” Papirmesiter said. He adds there are other solutions to avoid Garcia from fleeing the country instead of a large amount of bail.
The pastor of the Silver Spring location of LLDM, Aminadab Coronado, said other sexual abuse allegations have been brought up for previous leaders and nothing ever came of it.
The LLDM church allege that they have been under scrutiny from the public for a while and said they have the peace of God no matter the circumstances.
Coronado said the media attention on this case actually puts LLDM on the map, even though it is negative attention. He said he offers nothing but warmth from his heart and invites anyone to come check out the church.
There is warmth but also pain. “The pain I feel is because he (Garcia) doesn’t deserve it,” said Guevara, “The truth is that he is innocent. He is a great man.”
According to a Los Angeles judge, the next court date for Garcia will be next week.