On Thursday, a Los Angeles judge sanctioned two prosecutors 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 USD $5,000 each , saying they violated a court order to hand over material to lawyers for Naasón Joaquín García , 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 defense attorneys declined to comment. On Thursday afternoon, the attorney general's office said in a statement that its office will respond to the court, and "we will continue to work with defense counsel during discovery to provide information as appropriate ."
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.
Defense attorneys have repeatedly asked to see evidence and discovery in the weeks since the June arrests , both in motions and during court appearances. Prosecutors have said investigators are still poring over thousands of photos and videos — some of which contained alleged sexual images of persons believed to be minors, as well as alleged sexual assaults in video footage.
On Friday, less than a week before a scheduled preliminary hearing , Sullivan had ordered the prosecutors to turn over their evidence. On Wednesday, she held an additional hearing regarding the prosecutors' alleged contempt before becoming visibly frustrated on Thursday.
"The court feels the court has provided the people more than ample time to comply," Sullivan said.
García, who is considered the church's apostle, and two co-defendants were arrested 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.
García 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 García and his sexual demands . García heads up the international evangelical megachurch, which boasts 5 million followers — dozens of whom have attended his court proceedings.
Prosecutors have sought to keep García 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 García's followers could raise money for bail, even when it was originally set at USD $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 García's arrest. In June, the judge said prosecutors must offer more evidence of the allegations.
In the August 23 hearing , Sullivan had asked the attorneys to deliver the evidence presented by the key witness in the trial, Jane Doe 4, who has identified the alleged victims of abuse of which Naasón and his accomplices are accused.
The judge told them they also had to share the videos, photographs, and text messages found in the devices that were secured from the defendant.
The defense seeks for the court to dismiss the declarations of the key witness, whom they accuse of appearing herself in the videos analyzed by agent Steven Stover, in which she performs sexual acts with girls.
Likewise, the defense argues that Jane Doe 4 put images in the iPhone seized from Naasón and in which prosecutors detected child pornography, photographs of naked women, messages related to sex parties attended by minors, and dialogues about how they recruited the most beautiful teenagers to “serve” Naasón.
Naasón Joaquín, of 50 years of age, was arrested last June in the Los Angeles Airport accused of sexual abuse, child pornography, and human trafficking , among other crimes, after four women, three minors among them, made accusations against him. Along with him, two women , considered to be his accomplices , were captured, and a third, Azalea Rangel Meléndez , who has been mentioned several times by witnesses as having participated in the abuse, is a fugitive from justice.