LOS ANGELES — The imprisoned head of a Mexico-based megachurch who is serving more than 16 years in a California prison for sexually abusing young followers was charged with two federal crimes Wednesday for allegedly producing child pornography.
A federal grand jury in Los Angeles on Wednesday indicted Naasón Joaquín García, 54, on two felony counts of producing and possessing child pornography, which involved a 16-year-old follower of his church, according to a statement from the U.S. attorney’s office.
When García was arrested in 2019, prosecutors said he had an iPad that contained five videos depicting the then-teenage girl engaging in sexual activity.
“We did not indict until after the state case was finished,” the U.S. attorney’s office stated in an email to the Associated Press.
García heads the megachurch La Luz del Mundo (The Light of the World), which claims to have 5 million followers worldwide, including in the U.S. Believers consider him to be the “apostle” of Jesus Christ. Founded by García's grandfather in the 1920s, it is the largest evangelical church in Mexico.
But prosecutors in California say García 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.
An email from the Associated Press seeking comment from the church on the new federal charges wasn’t immediately returned Wednesday.
The church has publicly stood by García and in June 2022 issued a statement on Twitter, saying that “our confidence in him remains intact with full knowledge of his integrity, his conduct and his work.”
García is currently serving a prison sentence at the California Institution for Men in Chino. Last year, he pleaded guilty to two state counts of forcible oral copulation involving minors and one count of a lewd act upon a child who was 15 at the time. García was registered as a sex offender for life.
In exchange for García’s plea deal, California prosecutors dropped 16 counts that included allegations of raping children and women, as well as human trafficking to produce child pornography.
The church said at the time that García pleaded guilty because he did not think he could get a fair trial, claiming that prosecutors withheld or doctored evidence and the agreement would allow him to be freed sooner.
Several of García’s accusers, each identified in court only as Jane Doe and who are now young adults, spoke at his trial and decried the plea agreement as too lenient. They had added that they were not consulted on the deal that García reached with the California Attorney General’s Office.
In June, former parishioners and those with relatives in the church protested outside the La Luz del Mundo church in East Los Angeles, alleging that there is abuse still taking place in the church. Some protesters also claimed they or their family members were sexually abused.
But García has followers that defend his leadership, with one of them telling Noticias Telemundo last year that “his honor is not in doubt.”
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The abuse in the La Luz del Mundo church was the subject of a 2022 HBO documentary called “Unveiled: Surviving La Luz del Mundo,” as well as a 2023 Netflix documentary called “The Darkness Within La Luz del Mundo.”
If convicted of the federal charges, García could face 15 to 30 years in federal prison for producing child pornography and up to 10 years in prison for possessing it. A judge would decide whether he serves the time concurrently or in addition to his state sentence, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.
In an interview with Noticias Telemundo after García's conviction in 2022, attorney Jonati Yedidsion said the accusers were planning to file civil lawsuits against other church officials, claiming they were complicit in the abuse.