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Monday, February 19, 2024

Pastor Joaquin Garcia: The Sex Offending Megachurch Leader

     In 2019, 50-year-old Joaquin Garcia headed up a Mexican based megachurch with branches in the United States and 56 other countries. The La Lux del Mundo (The Light of the World) christian fundamentalist church claimed on its website to have 5 million followers worldwide. Before becoming leader of La Luz del Mundo, Joaquin Garcia had been a minister in Los Angeles and other places in southern California. Members of the megachurch who followed its teachings were promised eternal salvation.

     Over a period of several years Pastor Garcia and members of the church were accused of child sexual abuse and rape. None of the allegations, however, led to serious investigations or criminal prosecution.

     In June 2019 a California Attorney General's Office prosecutor charged Joaquin Garcia and four of his female followers with the production of child pornography, rape of a minor and human trafficking. The 29 felony counts involved three girls and an adult female, and covered the period 2015 to 2018. The alleged offenses took place in Los Angeles County.

     The megachurch leader, among other crimes, stood accused of coercing girls into having sex with him by telling his victims if they refused they would offend God and go to hell.

     On June 4, 2019  Mr. Garcia and 24-year-old Susana Medina Oaxaca were taken into custody after deplaning at the Los Angeles International Airport. At his arraignment the religious leader pleaded not guilty to all of the charges. The magistrate set his bail at $25 million.

     The day after officers booked Joaquin Garcia into the Los Angeles County Jail 1,000 of his followers gathered at La Luz del Mundo headquarters in Guadalajara, Mexico to pray for his release.

     A spokesperson for the church proclaimed Pastor Garcia innocent and described the criminal charges against him as false.

     On April 7, 2020 a California appeals court ordered the dismissal of all the charges against the church leader. The dismissal, based upon a procedural issue, pertained to the state's failure to hold a preliminary hearing on the case in a timely manner.

     Pursuant to the procedural laws of every state and federal government, the prosecution must, within a stated period of time following the defendant's arrest, present sufficient evidence of the defendant's guilt to convince a judge to allow the case to move forward to a trial. The state's evidence does not have to be strong enough to convict, but enough to establish a prima facie case. This requirement is one of the underpinnings of American due process. In American jurisprudence a criminal suspect cannot be locked up and forgotten.

     In the Garcia prosecution the defendant's preliminary hearing had been postponed several times because the state had failed to turn over evidence to the defense.

     Joaquin Garcia's attorney, Alan Jackson, said the following to reporters at a press conference: "In their zeal to secure a conviction at any cost, the attorney general sought to strip Mr. Garcia of his freedom without due process by locking him up on the basis of unsubstantiated accusations by unnamed accusers, and by denying him his day in court."

     While the appeals court justices did not dismiss the charges against Garcia's four co-defendants, the charges against them were dropped. 
     The investigation into the pastor's sex crimes continued, and in June 2022 Pastor Joaquin Garcia pleaded guilty to abusing several young girls. The judge sentenced him to 16 years in a Los Angeles prison. Following his sentencing a large group of his religious followers gathered at the church's main temple in Guadalajra, Mexico to pray for their absent leader and to express their dying loyalty.
     In October 2023 a federal grand jury sitting in Los Angeles indicted Pastor Garcia on two child pornography charges. 

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