The leader of the Mexican megachurch La Luz del Mundo was sentenced on Wednesday to more than 16 years in a California prison for sexually abusing young female followers.
Naasón Joaquín García, 53, pleaded guilty last week in Los Angeles superior court to three felonies on the eve of a long-awaited trial.
Prosecutors said García, who is considered the “apostle” of Jesus Christ by his 5 million followers worldwide, used his spiritual sway to have sex with girls and young women who were told it would lead to their salvation – or damnation if they refused.
Judge Ronald Coen, who called García a sexual predator, dicho: “I never cease to be amazed at what people do in the name of religion and how many lives are ruined in the guise of a supreme being.”
The sentence came after nearly three hours of emotional statements by five young women García was charged with sexually abusing. They had once been his most devoted servants. But in court they called him “evil” and a “monster”, “disgusting human waste” and the “antichrist”.
“I worshipped my abuser,” said a woman identified as Jane Doe 4. “He used me over and over again like a sacrificial lamb taken to slaughter.”
García pleaded guilty on Friday to two counts of forcible oral copulation involving minors and one count of a lewd act upon a child who was 15. In exchange, prosecutors dropped 16 counts that included allegations of raping children and women, as well as human trafficking to produce child pornography.
The victims objected to the plea deal, saying they only learned about it at the last minute and were not consulted. They implored Coen to impose a stiffer sentence but he said his hands were tied by the agreement.
“The world has heard you,” he told them and their supporters. “I promise you that.”
The church, which is also known as the Light of the World, claimed in a statement that García pleaded guilty because he didn’t think he could get a fair trial.
“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 church said. It repeated its support for him.
García’s grandfather founded the Guadalajara-based fundamentalist Christian church in 1926. García took over as “apostle” after his father, Samuel Joaquín Flores, murio en 2014.
Patricia Fusco, supervising deputy attorney general, praised the victims for their bravery in standing up to García. She said their courage had saved others’ lives.
"Ellos [the victims] trusted him. They thought he was basically God on Earth,” Fusco said. “We know, por supuesto, he’s not God. Not even close.”
The victims spoke of how their delight at being invited into a secret inner circle with García. They said they were called angels and told they were García’s property and that his wishes were godly commands and they should serve the Lord without question. Bible verses were twisted to make them comply, ellos dijeron.
But they were also told they would be damned if they spoke out – and so would anybody they told.