LOS ANGELES (AP) — The leader of the Mexican megachurch La Luz del Mundo was sentenced Wednesday to more than 16 years in a California prison for sexually abusing young female followers who said he made them his sex slaves.
Naasón Joaquín García, 53, abruptly pleaded guilty last week in Los Angeles Superior Court to three felonies on the eve of a long-awaited trial.
Prosecutors said García, who is considered the “apostle” of Jesus Christ by his 5 million worldwide followers, 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.
“I never cease to be amazed at what people do in the name of religion and how many lives are ruined in the guise of a supreme being,” said Judge Ronald Coen, who called García a sexual predator.
The sentence came after nearly three hours of emotional statements by five young women García was charged with sexually abusing. They had once been his most devoted servants. But in court they called him “evil” and a “monster,” “disgusting human waste” and the “antichrist.”
“I worshipped my abuser,” said a woman identified as Jane Doe 4 and said she was his niece. “He used me over and over again like a sacrificial lamb taken to slaughter.”
García, dressed in orange jail scrubs and wearing a surgical mask pulled under his glasses, didn’t turn to face the women. He sat upright and looked straight ahead with this hands shackled at his waist as he followed along with the proceedings listening through ear phones to a Spanish interpreter.
García pleaded guilty Friday to two counts of forcible oral copulation involving minors and one count of a lewd act upon a child who was 15. In exchange, prosecutors dropped 16 counts that included allegations of raping children and women, as well as human trafficking to produce child pornography.
The victims objected to the plea deal, saying they only learned about it at the last minute and were not consulted. They implored Coen to impose a stiffer sentence but he said his hands were tied by the agreement.
“The world has heard you,” he told the weeping Jane Does and their supporters. “I promise you that.”
The church, which is also known as the Light of the World, said in a statement that García pleaded guilty because he didn’t think he could get a fair trial after prosecutors withheld or doctored evidence. The agreement would allow him to be freed sooner.
“The Apostle of Jesus Christ has had no choice but to accept with much pain that the agreement presented is the best way forward to protect the church and his family,” the church said. It repeated its support for him.