Megachurch leader charged with sex crimes in California

A megachurch founder estimated to have more than 1 million followers around the world was arrested Tuesday on suspicion of multiple sex crimes.

California’s Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D) announced in a news release that Naasón Joaquín García and three members of his church were arrested and charged with human trafficking, creating child pornography, rape of a minor and other crimes.

{mosads}García and the other co-defendants are charged with 26 felonies in total, which are alleged to have occurred during a four-year period. According to the news release, the “La Luz Del Mundo” (The Light of the World) founder coerced victims, including at least one who was underage, into performing sex acts, claiming that to do otherwise would displease God.

“Crimes like those alleged in this complaint have no place in our society. Period,” Becerra said in the news release. “We must not turn a blind eye to sexual violence and trafficking in our state. At the California Department of Justice, we will do everything we can to prevent and combat these heinous crimes so that our communities are safe. If you see something, report it and we will vigorously pursue justice.”

One other member of the church, Azalea Rangel Melendez, also faces a warrant for arrest but remains at large, according to the press release.

Bail was set for García by a judge this week at $25 million. His church is headquartered in Mexico but has centers in California and Arizona.

Church officials denied the charges in a statement to The Arizona Republic, saying that the organization “categorically rejects each and every allegation made against him.”

“The Apostle of Jesus Christ has always adhered to the law and demonstrated full respect to governmental institutions and the dignity of all persons,” the church’s statement read.

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