FILE - In this July 15, 2019, file photo, Naason Joaquin Garcia, the leader of a Mexico-based evangelical church with a worldwide membership, attends a bail review hearing in Los Angeles Superior Court in Los Angeles. Garcia, who is considered the church’s apostle, and two co-defendants were arrested in June on suspicion of sexually abusing three girls and a woman in Los Angeles County. All three have pleaded not guilty and a fourth defendant remains at large. (Al Seib/Los Angeles Times via AP, Pool, File)

Prosecutors fined in Mexican church leader child rape case

September 19, 2019 - 4:17 pm

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A Los Angeles judge sanctioned two prosecutors Thursday for failing to turn over evidence in the case of a Mexican megachurch leader charged with child rape and human trafficking.

Superior Court Judge Teresa Sullivan fined deputy attorneys general Amanda Plisner and Diana Callaghan $5,000 each, saying they violated a court order to hand over material to lawyers for Naason Joaquin Garcia, the leader of La Luz del Mundo, and his two co-defendants.

Sullivan told prosecutors they must turn over the evidence by Friday morning.

The prosecutors' lawyers declined to comment on the sanctions and the attorney general's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The issue arose as prosecutors were set to detail the accusations at a hearing in which the judge will decide whether there is enough evidence for the case to proceed to trial.

Garcia, who is considered the church's apostle, and two co-defendants were arrested in June on suspicion of sexually abusing three girls and a woman in Los Angeles County. The three have pleaded not guilty, and a fourth defendant is at large.

Garcia is being held without bail. His attorneys have raised concerns about potential evidence manipulation, as well as a theory of conspiracy, saying that a complaining witness has tried to frame their client.

The victims were allegedly told they would be going against God if they didn't acquiesce to Garcia and his sexual demands. Garcia heads up the international evangelical megachurch, which boasts 5 million followers — dozens of whom have attended his court proceedings.

Prosecutors have sought to keep Garcia behind bars as he awaits trial, saying he poses a threat to "hundreds of girls" if he is released. Prosecutors have also said they were concerned Garcia's followers could raise money for bail, even when it was originally set at $50 million.

While the attorney general's office said there could be additional victims and charges, only three counts of child pornography have been added since Garcia's arrest. In June, the judge said prosecutors must offer more evidence of the allegations.

Investigators said in July they were still poring over thousands of photos and videos. They said some contained alleged sexual images of persons believed to be minors, as well as alleged sexual assaults in video footage.

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