The lawyer for several victims of a Mexican megachurch leader who pleaded guilty of sexually abusing minors said they are planning to sue other leaders of the church, alleging they were complicit in the abuse.
Naasón Joaquín García, 53, leader of the evangelical megachurch La Luz del Mundo, was sentenced to 16 years in prison on June 9 after pleading guilty in Los Angeles to two counts of forcible oral copulation involving minors and performing a lewd act on a child.
García pleaded guilty days before before he was set to stand trial on 23 felony counts of sex crimes against children, including multiple charges of rape, conspiracy to engage in human trafficking and child pornography.
In an interview with Noticias Telemundo, attorney Jonati Yedidsion said the alleged victims will now file civil lawsuits against other church officials.
“We have some names that we know that, at the very least, have played a role in perpetuating the abuse, and silencing the victims,” Yedidsion said in an interview with Telemundo correspondent Francisco Cuevas.
The attorney, who represents five whistleblowers identified only as Jane Doe, said the danger has not abated for the victims who decided to come forward.
Many have received threats “consistently” and are afraid to speak in public, Yedidsion said. “After the sentence, some of their identities have been leaked and exposed. So the threats and trying to silence their voices have continued,” she said.
“People have called other members of the church to attack them and I think that just because their names, their faces and their photos have been leaked, that poses a real risk to their safety,” Yedidsion said.
Founded by García’s grandfather in the 1920s, La Luz del Mundo is the largest evangelical church in Mexico, with millions of followers across several countries.
García, who calls himself the “apostle of Jesus Christ,” pleaded guilty earlier this month to abusing three girls. He reached an agreement with California’s attorney general’s office to avoid a costly trial in which the victims would have had to relive traumatic episodes.
But many of the victims said the plea deal was a “mockery.”
“[I lived] extortion, trafficking, abuse, rape, labor — all the ways that a human being can be abused is the way that Naasón Joaquín abused me and abused the five women who also reported to the California prosecutor’s office. The California prosecutor’s office defrauded us all,” said Sochil Martín, the first woman who denounced the leader, in an interview with Telemundo’s Hoy Día.
“How is it possible that if Naason was given a historic bail of $90 million in California, knowing his danger, they are only giving him 16 years and eight months,” said Moisés Padilla, who denounced Garcia’s father for alleged sexual abuse in 1998.
Yedidsion said the evidence that her legal team is gathering points to the hierarchy of La Luz del Mundo and will constitute another opportunity for the five anonymous complainants to obtain “justice in the correct way.”
Under the criminal charge, the victims could receive a maximum compensation of $10,000. However, through civil court, the amount could be much higher, Yedidsion explained, though she added there are factors such as the availability of funds from García and the U.S. based churches.
Among the people Yedidsion has been in contact with are church members who claim to have been sexually abused by García’s father, Samuel Joaquín Flores, who also led the organization at one point.
Yedidsion said that the mainstream media has not given enough attention to the case, and she thought the fact the victims were Spanish-speaking and Hispanic was a factor.
“You hear about other cults, like Nxivm, that got a lot of publicity and he [Keith Raniere] was sentenced to 120 years. In this case, the abuse is the worst you can imagine. And people haven’t heard about him and what happened with his criminal sentence. And I think the fact that it hasn’t received much media attention has to do with the fact that it’s about minorities,” she said.
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