A Southern California pastor pleaded not guilty Wednesday to sexually abusing two female parishioners, some under the guise that he was "healing" them as a man of God.
Jorge Juan Castro, 53, was an associate pastor and counselor at Las Buenas Nuevas Church in Norwalk.
He was arrested Sept. 13 at his Norwalk home on suspicion of sexually abusing, threatening and intimidating more than 20 women – ranging in age from 18 to 39 – who attended the church, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
The community in which Castro worked was predominantly Spanish-speaking. Police say most of his alleged victims are undocumented immigrants who he allegedly threatened with public humiliation or deportation if they alerted authorities
"The suspect allegedly preyed upon the victims' vulnerability," the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said in a statement.
A sheriff's official said Castro would frequently visit parishioners' homes, where some of the suspected abuse is alleged to have taken place.
“During that counseling session, he would perform certain acts with them in the name of God,” said Sgt. Al Garcia, with the LA County Sheriff’s Department.
A neighbor last month told NBC4 that Castro is a father of three and described the suspect as a nice neighbor who seemed happy. He moved to the Los Angeles area from Argentina in 2004.
An anonymous tipster told authorities about the suspected abuse after 21 women told that anonymous third party about the allegations, detectives said.
So far, just two alleged victims fully cooperated with investigators, who are are urging the rest to call them.
An official with the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office said they want the women to know the department will not report victims for deportation.
Anyone with information is urged to contact the Sheriff’s Special Victims Bureau detectives at 877-710-5273 or email SpecialVictims@lasd.org – se habla Español.
Anonymous tips can be reported to LA Crime Stoppers at 800-222-TIPS (8477), by texting the letters TIPLA plus your tip to CRIMES (274637), or using the website http://lacrimestoppers.org
More Southern California Stories:
- LAX Explosions Could Be Work of Disgruntled Worker
- Baggage Handler Arrested
- Santa Fe Springs Stench Returns
- Water Main Floods Fullerton Street
- Dodgers One Game from Elimination
- WATCH: Will Ferrell Leads Band
- Du-par's Offers 1938 Prices
- Three Dead in Apparent Double-Murder-Suicide
- Magical Year Boils Down to Game 5
- 3-D Models Show Average Size of Men
- Post-Game Brawl Suspect Sought
- Lieutenant Relieved of Duties
- Man Found Dead in Orange Street