By Jaclyn Cosgrove
LOS ANGELES — The leader of a church that has proposed building a huge development in Flowery Branch has been arrested on numerous felony charges.
California prosecutors on Tuesday announced that Naason Joaquin Garcia of the La Luz Del Mundo religious organization based in Mexico was arrested on suspicion of human trafficking, production of child pornography, forcible rape of a minor and other felonies. A copy of the complaint is available here.
Garcia, leader of the organization that claims more than 1 million followers worldwide, and co-defendants Alondra Ocampo, Azalea Rangel Melendez and Susana Medina Oaxaca — all of whom are affiliated with La Luz Del Mundo — are alleged to have committed 26 felonies in Southern California between 2015 and 2018.
“Crimes like those alleged in this complaint have no place in our society. Period,” said California Attorney General Xavier Becerra.
Prosecutors say Garcia and his co-defendants committed the crimes while leading La Luz Del Mundo, an international religious organization headquartered in Mexico.
“Garcia and his co-defendants allegedly coerced victims into performing sexual acts by telling them that if they went against any of his desires or wishes as ‘the Apostle,’ that they were going against God,” the attorney general said in a statement.
The organization — formed in Mexico in 1926 — has been the subject of controversy for years, as it has spread from Mexico into California and other places.
The church has proposed building a massive complex in Flowery Branch. It hasn't filed a formal application, but on its website and in preliminary documents with the city, has proposed a project calling for a hotel, retail, and multifamily and single-family homes. The project also would call for a school site, fellowship hall, administrative offices and cultural center/park.
Hall County records show the property owner as LDM Central Evangelical Ministries, and a March 2017 Facebook post links the property to La Luz del Mundo, translated as The Light of the World church, based in Guadalajara, Mexico.
LLDM has identified the project as “City of Light of the World” and as its “first effort to build cities where the values that distinguish human beings are cultivated, (people) live in an atmosphere of peace, equity, solidarity and above all, on the principles that human beings can achieve the harmony of living together by applying the statutes of healthy coexistence that the Lord Jesus Christ left to his apostles in teaching.”
The church is led by Garcia, who toured the Flowery Branch site, according to an English translation of the Facebook post, which was originally written in Spanish.
"This is very unfortunate, however we stand by the international leader of the church, Naason Joaquin as we know that he is a clean and good man," said Jack Freeman, a local leader of LDM, to The Times on Wednesday, June 5. "I have never witnessed anything other than respect and care from him. We are certain that this will come to pass and he will be found innocent on all allegations."
LDM Central USA Evangelical Ministries of Houston has filed draft paperwork with Flowery Branch laying out basic plans for the property at 5071 Hog Mountain Road, which is between Spout Springs and Capitola Farm roads. Capitola Farm Road connects Hog Mountain Road back to Spout Springs, cutting through Sterling on the Lake.
Times reporter Jeff Gill contributed to this report.