Naasón Joaquín García, the leader of Mexican megachurch La Luz del Mundo, faces up to 16 years and eight months in prison when sentenced Wednesday.
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Naasón Joaquín García, the leader of Mexican megachurch La Luz del Mundo, who had been facing child rape and other charges, admitted just days before trial that he sexually abused three girls, California state prosecutors said.
García, 53, pleaded guilty Friday in Los Angeles Superior Court to two counts of forcible oral copulation involving minors and one count of a lewd act upon a child who was 15. He had faced jury selection Monday in his trial on charges that included child rape and human trafficking to produce child pornography.
Garcia, leader of a church founded by his grandfather that has 5 million worldwide followers, was considered the “apostle” of Jesus Christ who could lead worshippers to salvation.
Prosecutors said he wielded his spiritual influence to have sex with several female followers.
“García used his power to take advantage of children,” Attorney General Rob Bonta said in a statement. “He relied on those around him to groom congregants for the purposes of sexual assault. Today’s conviction can never undo the harm, but it will help protect future generations.”
The guilty plea was an abrupt turn of events from the vigorous denials by his lawyers and ardent support from the Guadalajara-based church that is also known by its English name, The Light of the World. The church and Garcia’s lawyers did not immediately comment on the guilty plea.
Garcia faces up to 16 years and eight months in prison when sentenced Wednesday. He remains jailed on $90 million bail.
Garcia was arrested in 2019 and charged along with two women followers who were accused of helping facilitate the abuse.
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