LOS ANGELES (AP) - The head of a Mexican megachurch who is serving more than 16 years in a California prison for sexually abusing young followers was charged Wednesday with two federal crimes involving a 16-year-old girl, prosecutors said.
A federal grand jury in Los Angeles indicted Naasón Joaquín García, 54, on two charges of possessing and producing child pornography, according to a statement from the U.S. attorney’s office.
When he was arrested in California in 2019, Garcia had an iPad that contained five videos depicting the then-teenaged girl engaging in sexual activity, the statement said.
"We did not indict until after the state case was finished," the U.S. attorney’s office added in an email.
Garcia is the head of La Luz del Mundo (The Light of the World), which claims to have 5 million followers worldwide. Believers consider him to be the "apostle" of Jesus Christ.
This picture taken on August 9, 2017 shows the leader of the Church of the Light of the World, Naason Joaquin Garcia. (Photo by ULISES RUIZ / AFP) (Photo credit should read ULISES RUIZ/AFP via Getty Images)
But prosecutors in California say Garcia 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.
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An email seeking comment from the church on the new federal charges wasn’t immediately returned Wednesday.
Garcia currently is serving a prison sentence at the California Institution for Men in Chino. Last year, he pleaded guilty to two state counts of forcible oral copulation involving minors and one count of a lewd act upon a child who was 15.
In exchange, California prosecutors dropped 16 counts that included allegations of raping children and women, as well as human trafficking to produce child pornography.
At the time, the church said that García pleaded guilty because he didn’t think he could get a fair trial after prosecutors withheld or doctored evidence and the agreement would allow him to be freed sooner.
Victims who spoke at Garcia’s trial objected to the plea deal, saying it was too lenient.
If convicted of the federal charges, Garcia would face 15 to 30 years in federal prison for producing child pornography and up to 10 years in prison for possessing it. A judge would decide whether he served the time concurrently or in addition to his state sentence, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.