La Luz del Mundo, or "Light of the World" church on Haley Street. | Credit: Jackson Friedman (file)

California Attorney General Rob Bonta secured a guilty plea and conviction against La Luz del Mundo megachurch leader and former Santa Barbara County pastor Naasón Joaquín García days before he was set to go to trial for at least 27 counts ranging from sexual assault to lewd acts with a minor, according to an announcement from the California Department of Justice on Friday.

Credit: Courtesy

Under the deal, García pleaded guilty to multiple felony counts of sexual assault involving three separate minors, avoiding a trial that was set to begin next Monday in which he was named alongside two other church members who were alleged to have groomed congregants for sexual purposes. 

“Today’s conviction sends a clear message that sexual exploitation is never acceptable in California. We will hold you accountable if you break the law,” Bonta said.

The multi-year investigation and prosecution was led by the California Department of Justice and began in 2018, ending with the arrests of García, Susana Medina Oaxaca, and Alondra Ocampo in 2019 for conduct that occurred over several years in Los Angeles County dating back to at least 2015. 

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All three individuals are associated with the international Pentacostal church La Luz del Mundo, which had several chapters in Santa Barbara County, including one in Santa Maria, where García served as a pastor in the early 2000s, and another in Santa Barbara he frequently attended a decade before the alleged crimes.

According to the Department of Justice, García’s criminal conduct was “enabled by the individuals surrounding him,” and García “used his position of trust and authority as the leader of La Luz del Mundo to sexually abuse children.”

García and Oaxaca both pleaded guilty Friday, while Ocampo reached a similar deal in 2020 and will be sentenced at a later date. A fourth suspect, Azalea Rangel Melendez, was charged but remains at large.

“Naasón Joaquín García used his power to take advantage of children,” Bonta said. “Today’s conviction can never undo the harm, but it will help protect future generations.”

 Sentencing is currently scheduled for Wednesday, June 8.

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