LOS ANGELES – Defense lawyers for the leader of the Mexican church La Luz Del Mundo, Naason Joaquin Garcia, who was arrested earlier this week on multiple child sex abuse and human trafficking charges, said on Friday their client was innocent and claim he is the victim of an online conspiracy to ruin his reputation.
At a press conference outside the La Luz del Mundo (Light of the World) Church in east Los Angeles, lead defense attorney Ken Rosenfeld said there was no way Garcia could have a fair trial when the prosecution had already pronounced him guilty.
Members of the church and Garcia’s two sons were also present at the press conference.
Garcia, a 50-year-old Mexican citizen, was arrested at Los Angeles Airport on Monday when he was about to leave the US, and charges were filed against him at the Los Angeles County Superior Court for 26 felonies, including human trafficking, child pornography and child rape.
“The apostle is a victim in this case,” Rosenfeld said, adding that, “he is a victim of technology, of a high-tech hit job, of people that have interests (...) to try to incriminate him.”
Rosenfield discredited the origin of charges against Garcia, a website that the prosecution launched to receive information on sex abuse in religious organizations.
Co-counsel Allen Sawyer lashed out against the California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who on Thursday gave details on the case and called the religious leader a “madman.”
Sawyer accused Becerra of breaking the rules by presuming Garcia to be guilty, calling it a “sad day” for California’s justice system.
On Thursday, Becerra said that at least three victims of alleged sexual abuse by Garcia are underage girls.
“We have four people who are victims, who have given us information and hope to have other people helping us with this case because we believe that there are more victims of abuse of Garcia’s,” Becerra said during a press conference.
“I think it’s more than a sick person. This is a madman, how else can you explain something like this,” the Attorney General said.
The four victims are all residents of Los Angeles and members of the local Light of the World congregation.
Bail for Garcia had been set at $25 million, but Becerra successfully argued for it to be increased to $50 million, fearing that Garcia might be able to pay the bond.
“There is a real fear, because he has his church with more than a million followers that he will raise the money. And he will bail himself out,” said Becerra, explaining that the amount was the highest bail ever imposed in Los Angeles County.
A spokesperson for the church earlier this week denied the charges and said that the case bore signs of religious intolerance. The Luz Del Mundo’s rapid growth in recent years was probably a cause for concern for certain groups, he said.
The church claims to have over 1.8 million followers in Mexico, but the country’s official 2010 census says slightly more than 188,000 people said they were members.
Garcia is expected to return reappear at court in Los Angeles on June 10.