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Church members defend leader facing human trafficking, child porn charges

Video: Members of local church defend leader facing human trafficking, child porn charges

PALM SPRINGS, Calif.- - Members of La Luz Del Mundo Church are denying allegations their leader is being charged with 26 felony counts related to sex crimes. 

The church claims more than a million followers with dozens of congregations in Southern California, including one in Palm Springs. 

The church's leader, Joaquin Garcia and three codefendants, are behind bars facing 26 charges, including human trafficking, production of child pornography, and rape of a minor. 

Local church members are denying the allegations. "We don't accept these allegations," said Gerson Villarreal.

Read more on the allegations against Garcia from our sister station ABC7

"I'm saying it, with no doubt in my mind, that there will be nothing against him," said Kaleb Leyva, another member.

Leyva told News Channel 3's Lauren Coronado he was shocked when he saw the news about Garcia's arrest.

"You wake up surprised, like what's going on, but at the same time, you just brush it off, because you know it's not true," Leyva said. "I know he's innocent."

According to belief, Garcia is an apostle chosen by God and Leyva insists Garcia is not capable of committing the crimes.

"He practices what he preaches," Leyva said. "He's an honorable, righteous man. He's an honest man. All of it is just accusations."

The accusations were announced by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra on Tuesday. Becerra said the alleged crimes happened between 2015 and 2018 when Garcia and his codefendants manipulated victims into performing sexual acts, telling them that if they refused they were going against God.

The investigation began in 2018, partly because of information submitted to the California Department of Justice through the clergy abuse online complaint form.

Meanwhile, members of the church say they're just waiting for the investigation to be over. 

"We believe these allegations are false, trying to tarnish his name, and we're just waiting for all this to be cleared up," Villarreal said.


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