California’s top prosecutor said Thursday that he believes there are more victims of child sex abuse than those listed in charges against the leader of Mexico-based megachurch La Luz del Mundo and several followers.
“It would be hard to believe that, based on the information that we’re collecting, that it’s only these four individuals,” Attorney General Xavier Becerra said at a press conference, urging any victims to come forward.
La Luz del Mundo leader Naasón Joaquín García and two co-defendants were arrested in California this week and a fourth remains at large. They face a 26-count felony complaint that alleges crimes including child rape, statutory rape, molestation, human trafficking, child pornography and extortion.
A church spokesman has denounced the charges as slander and defamation and said Joaquín García remains the spiritual leader of La Luz del Mundo, which claims more than 5 million members worldwide.
Those in custody made their first court appearance in Los Angeles on Wednesday but did not enter pleas.
Bail for Joaquín García was doubled to $50 million after prosecutors presented evidence that he could flee the United States, Becerra said.
The attorney general said the extraordinary bail amount, believed to be the largest ever set in Los Angeles County, was requested because of a “credible fear” that Joaquín García could raise bond money from his many followers.
“We have a great apprehension that Mr. García will raise the money to get a bond to bail himself out,” he said.
Becerra repeatedly referred to Joaquín García as “sick.”
“No law of California, no law of humankind and certainly no law of God would permit to occur what Naasón Joaquín García is alleged to have committed in this case against young girls and others,” he said.
The four victims cited in the complaint were members of the church in Los Angeles County, he said.
Joaquín García — who was a minister in Los Angeles and other parts of Southern California before becoming the church’s leader — coerced the victims into performing sex acts by telling them that refusing would be going against God, authorities said.
“You don’t do that to children, you don’t do that to adults. You don’t hide behind some religious veil,” Becerra said.
The attorney general said the investigation resulted from a tip that came in through a website seeking victims of clergy sex abuse.
The defendants’ arraignment is set for Monday.