The head of an evangelical megachurch has been jailed for more than 16 years for sexually abusing three underage girls.
Naason Joaquin Garcia, leader and self-styled apostle of the Guadalajara-based church La Luz del Mundo (Light of the World) admitted two counts of forcible oral copulation involving minors and performing a lewd act on a child as part of a plea deal in order to avoid standing trial for much more serious offences, including multiple charges of rape.
But several of his accusers said they had not been consulted on the plea deal and condemned the 16 years and 8 months sentence as too lenient.
In victim-impact statements delivered during Wednesday’s hearing in Los Angeles, all five said they felt robbed of their chance to more fully confront Garcia.
One of the unnamed accusers cried as she told Garcia: “We looked up to you, you were our god, and you betrayed us.
You are no more than a predator and an abuser.”
Another, who identified herself as Garcia’s niece, said: “Naason and this church have ruined my life.”
Garcia’s conviction caps an investigation that began in 2018 leading to his arrest the following year at Los Angeles
International Airport with a co-defendant, Susana Medina Oaxaca, who pleaded guilty last Friday to a charge of assault likely to cause great bodily harm.
La Luz del Mundo is the largest evangelical church in Mexico, dating back to the 1920s, with branches in 50 countries and boasting about 5 million members.
When a Los Angeles judge ordered Garcia to stand trial in August 2020, the church issued a statement defending their leader as wrongly accused, saying the charges against him stemmed from “unsubstantiated anonymous allegations” and “blatant hearsay”.