California Appeals Court Drops Charges Against Megachurch Leader

Photo Credits: Channel 10 News

aason Joaquin Garcia, the leader of a Mexico-based evangelical church, has been held in custody without bail since June 2019 on charges of child rape and human trafficking. He has been arrested on accusations involving three girls and one woman between 2015 and 2018 in Los Angeles County. Both prosecutors and attorney general expected to file additional charges based on more victims as the case continued to be investigated. In 2019, allegations of the possession of child pornography were added. Joaquin Garcia, and three female co-defendants also affiliated with the church, are accused of committing 26 felonies. Of his three co-defendants, Azalea Rangel Meléndez remains at large while Alondra Ocampo and Susana Medina Oaxaca are also in custody in Los Angeles.

While being held in custody, Joaquin Garcia remained the spiritual leader of La Luz del Mundo, evangelic Christian megachurch based in Guadalajara, Mexico, which was founded by his grandfather. He even proclaimed himself as apostle of La Luz del Mundo, the church that claims five million followers worldwide and whose influence spread in recent years to parts of California that have large Hispanic populations. The alleged victims stated that Garcia abused his religious influence to convince them that what he was doing was not bad. According to The Religion News Service a federal lawsuit filed against the church and Garcia stated that both Garcia and his father sexually abused a girl by manipulating Bible passages to convince her that mistreatment actually was a gift from God.

This April a California appeals court dismissed the criminal case against Joaquin Garcia on procedural grounds and the attorney general's office stated that it was reviewing the court's ruling. The court ruled that Garcia should have been given a hearing after new charges (child pornography) were added, but there were delays in the case.

Eventually García's preliminary hearing was not held in a timely manner and, because he did not waive his right to one, the complaint filed against him was dismissed. It is not clear when he will be released; but, according to The Religion News Service, Garcia's attorney, Alan Jackson, said he and his client are "thrilled" by the decision.

"In their zeal to secure a conviction at any cost, the Attorney General sought to strip Mr. Garcia of his freedom without due process by locking him up without bail on the basis of unsubstantiated accusations by unnamed accusers and by denying him his day in court," Jackson said in a statement.

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