Lawyers for church leader say Attorney General tainted jury

The exterior of a La Luz del Mundo church branch is seen Thursday, June 6, 2019, in Los Angeles. California's top prosecutor said Thursday that he believes there are more victims of child sex abuse than those listed in charges against the leader of Mexico-based megachurch La Luz del Mundo and several followers. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
265805 Pinchos- PGB promo Banner (25 x 5 cm)-5 copy

Remarks by the California attorney general regarding the arrest of the leader of a Mexico-based megachurch charged with human trafficking and child rape may have tainted a potential jury, defense attorneys said Friday.

Attorney General Xavier Becerra said Thursday he believed there were more child sex abuse victims of La Luz del Mundo leader and self-proclaimed apostle Naasón Joaquín García and he feared the church’s millions of followers could raise his $50 million bail, believed to be the largest ever set in Los Angeles County.

Attorneys Ken Rosenfeld and Allen Sawyer said Joaquín García and his family are paying their legal fees and the evangelical church’s finances are not involved. The lawyers spoke Friday at a bilingual press conference outside an east Los Angeles temple of La Luz del Mundo, with Joaquín García’s family and church followers standing beside them, and called their client innocent of “false charges.”

Joaquín García and two co-defendants were arrested in California this week, and a fourth remains at large. They face a 26-count felony complaint that alleges crimes including child rape, statutory rape, molestation, human trafficking, child pornography and extortion.

“Yesterday was a sad day for the criminal justice system in California,” Sawyer said, noting that Becerra had called Joaquín García “demented.” ”How is Mr. García’s supposed to get a fair trial?”

Bibiana Ochoa, 42, a member of the church from Salt Lake City, said Friday the “false allegations” have caused La Luz del Mundo “a deep sadness.”

“We will return the apostle to his flock,” Rosenfeld said. “Five million faithful stand behind a wrongly accused man.”

The three defendants in custody made their first court appearance in Los Angeles on Wednesday. They did not enter pleas. They will return to court Monday for arraignment.

Joaquín García was originally represented by Dmitry Gorin and Alan Eisner. But he has since changed his lawyers to Rosenfeld and Sawyer, who said the other lawyers only handled the first appearance.

The Sacramento Business Journal called Rosenfeld “one of the most successful criminal defense lawyers in the state” last month after he defended “tax lady” Roni Deutch from a lawsuit filed by former Attorney General Jerry Brown. He also represented former San Francisco 49ers defensive tackle Dana Stubblefield in a rape case.

Sawyer was counsel to former Stockton Mayor Anthony Silva, who pleaded no contest last month to a conflict of interest charge after prosecutors dropped other financial malfeasance counts, the Stockton Record reported.

The attorneys said high-profile figures can often be targeted with false accusations. Rosenfeld said Joaquín García is the “victim of technology, a high-tech hit job.”

Some of the allegations appear to be documented by electronic evidence, but his client’s “identity has been assumed online at times,” Sawyer told The Associated Press Friday afternoon.

“There’s a lot of further investigation that needs to occur,” he said.

The case’s complaint does not mention the use of technology besides the production and distribution of child pornography.

Becerra’s office did not immediately have a comment Friday afternoon.q