The leader of a Mexico-based religious organization charged with rape and other sexual acts against children in Southern California was ordered Tuesday to be held without bail, despite pleas from his attorneys that their client's $50 million bail be reduced.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge David Fields noted that information provided by the alleged victims was "very detailed" and concluded that there is a "risk of flight" by Naason Joaquin Garcia -- the 50-year-old leader of La Luz del Mundo or The Light of the World.
"...Religion was used against these girls," the judge said, noting that he found it particularly disturbing that they were allegedly told that they were going against God if they disobeyed the "apostle."
Top news of the day
Garcia was arrested June 3 by Los Angeles Airport police and was initially held in lieu of $25 million bail, with bail subsequently being doubled before the California Attorney General's Office asked for him to be held without bail.
Garcia's attorneys, Kenneth Rosenfeld and Allen Sawyer, said outside court that they were disappointed by the judge's ruling and that they plan to ask a state appeals court panel to intervene.
"This is one round in what's going to be a long fight and we are going to fight because we know what the truth is and we're going to prove it," Rosenfeld told reporters after the hearing, which he called "extraordinarily one-sided" with only the prosecution being allowed to present witnesses.
Garcia -- whose Mexico-based evangelical church claims more than a million members worldwide -- is awaiting a hearing to determine if there is sufficient evidence to require him to stand trial on 17 counts, including forcible rape of a minor, forcible oral copulation, unlawful sexual intercourse, extortion, conspiracy and possession of child pornography.
He is charged along with co-defendants Alondra Ocampo, 36; Susana Medina Oaxaca, 24; and Azalea Rangel Melendez, who is still being sought by authorities.
The judge ordered bail to remain at $25 million for Ocampo, saying he found her alleged level of involvement in the crimes to be "very disturbing."
Ocampo is charged with 21 counts, including forcible rape of a minor, forcible oral copulation of a person under 18, human trafficking for production of child pornography and production/distribution of child pornography.
Oaxaca is charged with one count each of forcible oral copulation of a person under 18 and oral copulation of a person under 18.
She was released from jail last month after her bail was reduced from $5 million to $150,000 and bond was posted on her behalf.
Melendez is charged with one count each of forcible rape and forcible oral copulation.
The state Attorney General's Office alleges that the crimes occurred in Southern California between June 2015 and June 2019.
The criminal complaint alleges, among other acts, that Ocampo directed minors to perform "flirty" dances for Garcia "wearing as little clothing as possible."
Ocampo also allegedly ordered various minors to "take off their clothing and touch each other sexually."
The complaint also alleges that Garcia kissed and groped a 15-year-old girl in his office, and that he and Ocampo forcibly raped an underage girl.
Garcia, Ocampo and Oaxaca also allegedly performed sex acts on an underage girl, according to the complaint.
Ocampo also allegedly instructed three underage girls to take nude photos of themselves to send to Garcia, telling them to "take photos without their underwear and with their legs open," the complaint alleges.
State prosecutors allege that Garcia and his co-defendants coerced the victims into performing sexual acts by warning them that defying "the Apostle" is akin to defying God.
Ashley Valdez, a representative of the church, vehemently denied the allegations against the man viewed by followers as an apostle of Jesus Christ.
"The church categorically rejects each and every allegation made against him," Valdez said.
Rosenfeld asked the judge to allow Garcia to be released on house arrest "under the watchful eye of Robert Dick," a bounty hunter who ensured Casey Anthony's appearances during her Florida murder trial in which she was eventually acquitted of her 2-year-old daughter's death.
He noted that his client had no prior criminal record.
"The fact that he is famous should not be counted against him," the defense attorney told the judge. "He deserves to have bail."
Deputy Attorney General Amanda Plisner countered that fake driver's licenses were found at Garcia's home during a June 3 search, and raised a concern that he could flee to Mexico if he was released from custody.
"No bail is the only way to assure the safety of the community," the deputy attorney general said during the hearing, which began Monday.
Garcia, Ocampo and Oaxaca are due back at the downtown Los Angeles courthouse Aug. 2.