Former La Luz Del Mundo Member Alleges The Church Ran Child Sex Slavery Ring
A new civil lawsuit filed Thursday against religious leader and self-proclaimed "Apostle" of La Luz Del Mundo, Naason Joaquin Garcia, contains shocking allegations of abuse.
The filing, made in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, came as the religious group is holding its "Holy Supper" event at the Pomona Fairplex, attended by thousands.
It also comes more than eight months since Garcia, the Mexico-based megachurch's religious leader, was arrested in Los Angeles on dozens of felony child rape and human trafficking charges . He has been held without bail in downtown L.A.'s Men's Central Jail since then, after the court refused to grant bail citing him as a high-flight risk.
The lawsuit filed by Sochil Martin, a former Luz Del Mundo member, marks the first time a former La Luz Del Mundo church member has spoken openly about abuse allegations. Martin's lawyers held a news conference Thursday afternoon in Los Angeles to detail her claims against the religious organization, Garcia and other top leaders of the organization.
The 34-year-old woman says she grew up deep in La Luz Del Mundo, primarily attending the flagship temple in East L.A.
Martin says she was groomed as a child, beaten, forced to work for no pay for the church's communications department, and raped dozens of times over two decades by 'The Apostle' Naason Joaquin Garcia and his father, Samuel Joaquin Flores.
Martin's complaint alleges a ring of child sexual slavery and financial manipulation within the church and points fingers at Naason Joaquin Garcia's family members and La Luz Del Mundo bishops, many of whom are based in Southern California.
"For nearly 22 years, I was made to work for, travel for, lie for and give my body to an organization who saw me as nothing more than a source of profit and sexual pleasure," Martin told reporters gathered at the offices of Greenberg Gross in downtown Los Angeles Thursday. "Hundreds, if not thousands of other children before me and after me suffered the same fate."
Church officials rejected Martin's account Thursday morning.
"I think it's just a ploy for attention," said Jack Freeman, La Luz Del Mundo's U.S. spokesman and minister of its temple in Redlands. "It's hatred being manifested towards the Church to disrupt our biggest and holiest event."
Freeman told LAist he hadn't read the complaint, but confirmed that Martin was a former church member who had once worked for La Luz Del Mundo's communications arm, Berea International USA .
WHAT IS LA LUZ DEL MUNDO?
La Luz Del Mundo (full name "Church of the Living God, Pillar and Ground of the Truth, The Light of the World") was founded in Guadalajara in the 1920s by Naason Joaquin Garcia's grandfather Eusebio Joaquín González, the church's first self-proclaimed apostle.
La Luz Del Mundo is Mexico's second-largest religious movement, after the Catholic Church. It's a Protestant Christian religious movement that considers itself a restoration of early Christian church.
The Light of The World reports 1,500 temples in 58 countries and between 1 and 5 million members worldwide.
It has a big presence in California, with more than 50 temples, including churches in East L.A. and Pasadena.
Joaquin Garcia's father, Samuel Joaquin Flores, led the church from 1964 until 2014.He was the subject of sexual abuse allegations in 1997, but never faced criminal charges.
La Luz traditions are unfamiliar to many in the U.S. Churches offer three prayer services each day. Male and female worshippers sit on opposite sides of churches. Women wear long skirts and cover their heads with lace veils. Church members aren't supposed to drink, smoke or gamble. The church does not celebrate Christmas or Easter.
As a minority religion in heavily Catholic Mexico, La Luz Del Mundo members have faced some marginalization and persecution.
WHAT IS THE HOLY SUPPER?
This event is the U.S. twist on the group's annual Santa Cena gathering at the church's historic headquarters in Guadalajara -- which draws hundreds of thousands of the church's millions of members every August in honor of the founding apostle's birthday.
It's a sacred rite and ritual for Luz Del Mundo members. Several cups filled with wine (or grape juice) are shared among their thousands of members.
This U.S. version was first held here in 2018, to signal the church's growing role in the U.S. under Naason Joaquin Garcia's leadership.
The ritual itself is scheduled to take place Friday evening, in part commemorating the former apostle Samuel Joaquin Flores' birthday.
"It's a moment of spiritual renewal where we are able to break bread, drink wine and regain our connection with God and Jesus Christ," said Genesis Coronado, a spokesperson providing a tour of the Pomona Fairplex. "As humans, we have moments of sin, and this event allows us to reconcile with God."
Church officials estimated more than 10,000 members showed up to celebrate in Pomona. There are five more sites around the country, including San Diego, Phoenix, Chicago, Dallas and Wanshington D.C.
NEW ALLEGATIONS FROM 'THE INNER-CIRCLE'
Sochil Martin is stepping forward and alleging years of abuse and manipulation growing up deep inside the religious group's flagship church in East L.A,, where the jailed church leader and self-proclaimed "Apostle" of the religious movement was once a pastor.
In her civil complaint, Martin says she was trafficked throughout the U.S. and Mexico, beaten and raped dozens of times and even forced to have sex with children -- all to satisfy the desires of "the two Apostles," Naason Joaquin Garcia, and his father Samuel Joaquin Flores.
Martin also claims that since age 16, La Luz Del Mundo's senior leaders forced her to do more than 30,000 hours of unpaid work for the church's communications arm, International Berea USA. which is run out of East L.A. and was established by Naason Joaquin Garcia in 2009.
Martin alleges church leaders used their positions of power to benefit from her trafficking and unpaid labor. She named 12 additional people in the lawsuit, including several bishops in La Luz Del Mundo, some of Martin's former bosses at the Church's communications department and Naason Joaquin Garcia's family members.
READ THE FULL LAWSUIT
She alleges a widespread culture of coercion and control inside the organization. Martin says countless members have been forced to work for LDM. The complaint claims most of the employees at Berea International were unpaid.
"For far too many La Luz Del Mundo members, everything they have is taken by LLDM. Every dollar they make goes to La Luz Del Mundo because they truly believe their money will be used to do the work of God on Earth," Martin said. "But all the hard-earned money goes to making Naason and his enablers rich."
Martin claims, on one occasion, LDM members in Southern California were encouraged to donate gold jewelry and heirlooms to the Apostle, which were melted down and used to paint the molding on his new home in Los Angeles.
She says members are pressured to give whatever they have to the Church, including homes, which are then either used by the Apostle's family or rented out to other LDM members for revenue.
"As thousands gather to celebrate the Holy Supper, Naason's followers will call me a liar and coerce members into giving their last pennies into helping Naason fight me and people like me," Martin said.
Martin says cash donated at La Luz del Mundo's temples feeds Naason Joaquin Garcia's lavish lifestyle. According to the complaint, Naason Joaquin Garcia owns two private ranches in Redlands and South Texas, which house exotic animals and vintage cars.
Sochil left the Church in 2016. Since 2018, She's been working with authorities to help investigate and prosecute La Luz Del Mundo's leaders.
WHAT'S HAPPENED IN COURT SO FAR?
Naason Joaquin Garcia and several co-conspirators were arrested last June and charged with dozens of felonies in a case filed by California Department of Justice. Garcia was first held on record high bail in L.A. county, and now without bail oncharges involve three girls and one young woman in L.A. county in recent years. Garcia had denied the charges.
The case has been dragging in the pre-trial phase since Naason Joaquin Garcia's dramatic arrest at LAX, at least in part because the child victims in the case were guaranteed anonymity when they reported alleged abuse to California Attorney General Xavier Becerra's office.
But the civil case filed today is the first where a former member of the church is publicly accusing La Luz Del Mundo and its leadership of manipulation and sex abuse. Sochil's attorneys, from Greenberg Gross and Jeff Anderson & Associates, said they hoped more victims will come forward.
Church officials and active members maintain the innocence and righteousness of their leader and Apostle. Spokesman Jack Freeman says despite the new allegations, the Holy Supper is going on as planned and has already resulted in hundreds of baptisms around the U.S.
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