A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge has refused to lower the $US50 million bail for Naason Joaquin Garcia, the leader of the Guadalajara-based Luz del Mundo church who faces multiple sex abuse charges in California.
While noting that the seriousness of the charges and the flight risk warrant the high amount, the judge called on prosecutors to provide greater evidence of the alleged felonies at the next bail hearing, scheduled July 15.
On June 21, Naason Joaquin Garcia and two female co-defendants, Alondra Ocampo and Susana Medina, pleaded not guilty to 26 felonies, allegedly committed from 2015 to 2018. They include human trafficking, child rape and child pornography, and are based on the testimony of four individuals who lawyers for Joaquín say have a grievance with the church leader after being fired from one of his “work teams.”
The judge also maintained bail for Ocampo at $US25 million, while Medina’s was reduced to $US150,000 on the basis that she only faces two counts. She will remain under house arrest after posting bail.
Prosecutors said they have seized and are scrutinizing around 60 electronic devices which they believe could lead to further charges being brought against the defendants.
Ken Rosenfeld, one of Joaquin’s lawyers, described the bail as “excessive and unconstitutional.”
Meanwhile, Luz del Mundo adherents in Mexico and elsewhere in the world – the church claims to have five million members in 58 countries – are standing by Joaquin and refusing to believe that their leader, regarded by the congregation as an “apostle” of God, is capable of committing such crimes.
“I can say with absolute certainty that (Joaquin) is innocent,” 21-year-old Vaspi Martinez Villanueva told Milenio newspaper. “I know his background and in spite of my age, I have seen the person he is.”
Maribel Zamora, another adherent, told the same publication that he was “a loving, honest and honorable person.”