The leader of a Mexico-based megachurch with millions of followers has been sentenced to nearly 17 years in prison for abusing young devotees who said they were forced to be his sex slaves.
Naasón Joaquín García, the self-styled “apostle” who leads La Luz del Mundo, or the Light of the World, was sentenced Wednesday after unexpectedly pleading guilty last week to three felonies in Los Angeles Superior Court.
He was sentenced to 16 years and eight months in prison following nearly three hours of harrowing victim-impact statements by five young women he was charged with abusing.
“I worshipped my abuser,” said one, identified only as Jane Doe 4, who said she was his niece.
“He used me over and over again like a sacrificial lamb taken to slaughter,” she said, with others calling him “evil,” a “monster” and the “antichrist.”
Another, Jane Doe No. 3, choked back sobs as she said, “We looked up to you, you were our god, and you betrayed us. You are no more than a predator and an abuser.”
García took over as “apostle” of the Guadalajara-based fundamentalist Christian church after the 2014 death of his father, who had also faced child-abuse allegations. The church, founded in 1926 by García’s grandfather, claims at least 5 million followers worldwide.
Prosecutors said he used his spiritual sway to have sex with girls who were told it would lead to their salvation — or damnation if they refused.
“They trusted him. They thought he was basically God on Earth,” supervising deputy attorney general Patricia Fusco told the court.
“We know, of course, he’s not God. Not even close. … Anyone who still believes he’s God is complicit and they’re supporting a child molester.”
Two women who have pleaded guilty to related charges were not sentenced Wednesday.
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 García’s plea deal, saying they were not consulted. They begged for a stiffer sentence.
“The world has heard you,” Judge Ronald Coen told the weeping Jane Does and their supporters. “I promise you that,” he said.
“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,” added the judge, who called García a sexual predator.
Despite the guilty plea, García’s church insisted its “confidence in him remains intact.”
In a statement posted to Twitter, the church said that he only accepted a plea deal because he knew he would not get a fair trial after evidence had been “suppressed, withheld, doctored and altered.”
“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.
During their impact statements, some of the girls said that being turned on by the church had been one of the most painful parts of coming forward. Some of their own family members didn’t believe them.
“Being called an apostate was the worst of the worst and you would go to hell no matter what,” said Jane Doe 2, who cried throughout her statement.
They were humiliated and shamed, called sluts and whores, they said.
One woman said she had suicidal thoughts and another said she tried to kill herself several times. They all said García had ruined their lives.
On the day Garcia was apprehended three years ago, Jane Doe 3 said her mother took her to church to join other worshippers who were crying as they prayed.
“I knew those tears were not for me. It broke me to stand there,” she said as she wept. “I couldn’t help but feel betrayed.”
With Post wires