What Does the La Luz del Mundo Megachurch Leader's Case Mean for Sexual Abuse Survivors? - Dordulian Law Group

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What Does the La Luz del Mundo Megachurch Leader’s Case Mean for Sexual Abuse Survivors?

What Does the La Luz del Mundo Megachurch Leader’s Case Mean for Sexual Abuse Survivors?

Aug 4, 2020

by Samuel Dordulian, Esq.

Earlier this year I wrote an article analyzing the procedural missteps that led to the California Court of Appeals decision to drop charges of child rape, human trafficking, and child pornography against Naason Joaquin Garcia. Garcia, the self-proclaimed “apostle” of La Luz del Mundo – a Mexico-based megachurch with a reported 5 million followers worldwide – had been charged with more than a dozen sex crimes in 2019. But the charges were dropped in April due to a procedural technicality (specifically a failure to provide a preliminary hearing within 10 days, which violated Garcia’s due process rights to a speedy trial).

The decision by the appeals court to drop the case had no bearing on whether or not the sex crime charges against Garcia had merit. The dismissal was merely related to a procedural error on the part of the state, not a reflection of the legitimacy of any charges against Garcia. After the charges were dismissed I wrote that, given the severity and scope of the alleged crimes, those charges would likely be refiled, and the case eventually reinstated.

This week the California Attorney General’s Office did just that, refiling the sex crime charges against Garcia, with three dozen felony counts including forcible rape of a minor, forcible oral copulation of a person under 18, unlawful sexual intercourse, committing a lewd act on a child, extortion, conspiracy, and possession of child pornography. Garcia’s bail was set at $50 million.

Additionally, sex crime charges were filed against two of Garcia’s associates, Susana Medina Oaxaca and Alondra Ocampo. Prosecutors allege the three committed sex crimes and produced child pornography involving five women (some reportedly young girls at the time of the incidents) who were members of the La Luz del Mundo church. According to prosecutors the sex crimes related to these specific charges took place between 2015 and 2018 in Los Angeles County. Authorities accuse Garcia of committing a lewd act on a 15-year-old in his office, and allege that he and Ocampo raped and committed forced oral copulation with another girl.

The unspeakable details of these alleged crimes are truly horrifying, and suggest a systemic culture of sexual abuse that took place for years within the church. According to the indictment, young girls were told “if they went against any desires or wishes of ‘the Apostle’ … that they were going against God.” In February, a federal lawsuit filed by a Southern California woman alleged Garcia and his late father (the former head of the church) sexually abused her for 18 years, beginning when she was only 12. The pair allegedly manipulated bible passages to “convince her the mistreatment actually was a gift from God.

In the early part of my career I worked as a sex crimes prosecutor in the role of Deputy District Attorney for Los Angeles County. I faced hundreds of harrowing sexual abuse cases that left me overcome with anger and bewilderment. In examining the details related to the charges against Naason Joaquin Garcia and his associates, this is one of the most despicable and loathsome cases I’ve ever encountered. Given the church’s worldwide following, the number of survivors could be in the hundreds.

Last month, DLG SAJE Team Member, Detective Moses Castillo, wrote a blog about the Menlo Church sexual abuse scandal. Since that blog was posted a number of people have contacted our office, both online and via social media. I’ve received many questions related to reporting sex crimes, but have been overwhelmed with inquiries regarding what to do if you or someone you love is a survivor of sexual abuse. The new charges against Naason Joaquin Garcia and others from the La Luz del Mundo megachurch offer an appropriate context for addressing that particular inquiry, as the case could potentially impact countless members of our community, specifically here in Southern California.

First, let’s look at the case from a general overview, and then I’ll focus on the more specific issues related to the questions I’ve been receiving.

Our Sexual Assault Justice Experts are here to help survivors secure justice. Contact our top-rated attorneys online or by phone for a free consultation today.

What Does the Refiling of Charges Indicate About the Case?

The California Attorney General’s Office appears to have considerable evidence against Garcia, with multiple survivors/plaintiffs being named in the complaint. In my past experience with the District Attorney’s Office, a case where multiple survivors are named as plaintiffs often leads to an increased chance of conviction. Given that the charges were previously dropped in April – even though it was merely a procedural technicality – the refiling of the charges by the state indicates that prosecutors are confident they will be able to convict Garcia and his associates.

Of course, jury trials are entirely unpredictable, and the case will not be decided for several months. However, given the amount evidence that exists, including the number of survivors who have bravely decided to come forward and tell their stories, I am cautiously optimistic that justice will ultimately be served.

The State Filed Criminal Charges – Will Garcia Also Face Civil Lawsuits?

The case against Garcia by the Attorney General’s Office represents numerous criminal charges that could potentially lead to a lifelong prison sentence. If Garcia and his associates are guilty of the charges included in the complaint, they should face the maximum allowable punishment under the law. And that punishment can actually extend beyond a prison sentence.

In California, sex offenders are subject to both criminal and civil charges. That means that Garcia, in addition to prison time and substantial fines from state and federal officials, could face a civil lawsuit towards financial damages from any survivor who endured his alleged abuse. In February, a survivor filed a federal civil lawsuit, which reportedly included shocking allegations of sexual abuse. Given the extent of the charges, and reports of sexual abuse within La Luz del Mundo megachurch being rampant for decades, it’s difficult to estimate the total number of survivors who could pursue additional civil lawsuits against both Garcia and the church as an institution. As I mentioned in my last blog, it’s important to keep in mind that coming forward after sexual abuse is an extremely personal decision, and sex crime disclosures often take place years after the actual incident occurred. According to the nonprofit organization RAINN(Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), every 73 seconds an American is sexually assaulted. Unfortunately, however, one-third of sex crime survivors never disclose, and the average age to disclose childhood sexual abuse is reportedly 52. With that in mind, the number of survivors eligible to file civil lawsuits against Naason Joaquin Garcia could be staggering.

The Long-Term Effects of Clergy Sexual Abuse

The state handles the criminal trial, but a civil lawsuit brought by a survivor would be handled by the sexual abuse attorney of their choice.

I’m a La Luz del Mundo Survivor – Can I File a Civil Lawsuit?

The most common question I’ve received over the past two weeks has concerned what options are available, or what the best course of action is as a survivor of sexual abuse seeking justice against an attacker. The first thing I tell any survivor who asks about options is that you absolutely have the right to file a civil lawsuit against your perpetrator. The second thing I tell survivors is that state laws and statutes of limitations vary depending on the details of the crime and when it occurred, so it’s important to act as soon as possible to ensure a claim is filed before an unforeseen deadline passes or window of opportunity closes.

In California, the statutes of limitations for sex crimes generally depend on three factors:

  1. When the crime occurred (in relation to the present date)
  2. How old the survivor was at the time of the incident
  3. Whether or not an injury (such as post-traumatic stress disorder) developed following the act of abuse

For adult sex crimes occurring after 2019, the statute of limitations in California is 10 years from the date of the incident (meaning a survivor has 10 years from the date the abuse occurred to officially file a claim). For adult sex crimes occurring prior to 2019, the statute of limitations is only two years (the state passed a law recently that extended the two-year statute to 10 years, but it only applies to crimes occurring after January 1, 2019).

However, in instances where a psychological injury – such as post-traumatic stress disorder – occurred as a result of sexual abuse, the statute of limitations is:

  • Two years after the discovery of the injury for crimes occurring before 2019
  • Three years after the discovery of the injury for crimes occurring after 2019

For childhood sexual abuse, the laws are entirely different, and currently the statute of limitations for any sex crime against a child is temporarily removed under what’s known as California Assembly Bill 218 (AB 218).

AB 218 has multiple facets (laws are complex and statutes continuously change, which is why it’s always advisable to seek the advice of an experienced sex crimes attorney whenever pursuing a civil lawsuit against a sexual abuse perpetrator). But the most important aspect of AB 218 is the temporary three-year “lookback window” that is currently in effect.

If I could, I’d shout about AB 218’s lookback window from every rooftop in the country until each and every sexual abuse survivor was aware of this unprecedented opportunity to finally secure justice. The best metaphor I can conjure to appropriately associate with AB 218 is a time machine, as the law essentially allows us to go back in time to help survivors secure justice.

What the lookback window does is temporarily remove the statute of limitations on childhood sexual abuse crimes for the next three years – from January 1, 2020 to December 31, 2022. Under the lookback window, any survivor of childhood sexual abuse – regardless of when the crime occurred – is now eligible to file a civil lawsuit for financial damages against an abuser.

Until the end of 2022, survivors of childhood sexual abuse are able to secure justice, no questions asked. Sex offenders have nowhere to hide under AB 218’s lookback window. While the window is open (and the time machine is running) all the sex crimes that would have otherwise been barred under a statute of limitations because they occurred too long ago are now open to prosecution. It’s an incredible opportunity for childhood sexual abuse survivors that has never previously existed. A number of other states – like Colorado, where legislation is being considered – are following California’s lead in passing similar laws so survivors can finally obtain the justice they deserve, regardless of how long ago the crime occurred.

Unfortunately, the lookback window is only available for survivors to take advantage of for a limited time. After 2022, the window closes, and the statute of limitations on sex crimes resumes.

What Happens if Survivors Don’t Take Advantage of the Current Lookback Window?

If a survivor of childhood sexual abuse files a lawsuit after the lookback window closes (i.e. January 1, 2023 or later), the opportunity for justice could still exist under the law, but whether or not a claim is able to be filed will depend on the statutes of limitations, as they will be in effect from that day forward.

For survivors of childhood sexual abuse who choose to file a claim after the AB 218 lookback window closes, the statutes of limitations are as follows:

  • Until the survivor’s 40th birthday
  • Five years from the date of discovering an injury (such as PTSD) resulting from abuse

In other words, survivors of childhood sexual abuse are eligible to file a civil lawsuit until they turn 40 (at 40-years-and-one-day, however, the statute of limitations officially expires).

Or, in instances where a psychological injury occurred, survivors of childhood sexual abuse have five years from the date that the injury was discovered to file a claim. It’s important to note that proving the date on which you “discovered” a psychological injury or illness like PTSD can depend on a number of details and factors – all of which you should discuss with your attorney. For instance, if you sought counseling for a psychological illness, you may need to prove that the date of your first appointment with your therapist or counselor was within five years of the date that you officially filed your civil lawsuit.

The laws can be complicated and confusing, but if you have questions regarding statutes of limitations please don’t hesitate to contact the experienced and dedicated team at Dordulian Law Group. We’re here 24/7 to answer any questions you have via a free consultation. DLG attorneys have a 99% success rate in sexual abuse trials. Whatever your case entails, we have the experience and talent required to win. We’re here to serve as your unwavering advocates, and ready to fight to ensure you receive the justice you deserve.

If you’ve experienced workplace sexual harassment, our expert attorneys can help you recover financial damages you deserve. Contact us online or by phone for a free consultation today.

Is There Anything Else I Should Know About AB 218?

One additional aspect of AB 218 that can dramatically benefit survivors of childhood sexual abuse involves what’s known in legalese as “treble damages.” Treble damages under AB 218 are essentially triple damages for a financial award or settlement in a childhood sexual abuse civil lawsuit. If you were to be awarded $10 million in a childhood sexual abuse case where treble damages were applied, you would ultimately receive $30 million.

So, how and when are treble damages applied under AB 218?

Under AB 218, in cases where an intentional cover-up took place – whether on the part of an individual or an institution like La Luz del Mundo – survivors are entitled to treble (triple) damages. AB 218, which passed last year and officially took effect on January 1, was designed to not only help survivors of childhood sexual abuse obtain the justice they deserve, it was designed to punish the despicable actors who have engaged in systemic and widespread abuse over the years. The actions of these heinous criminals have led to a veritable pandemic of sexual abuse throughout our nation, affecting some of our largest and most influential institutions.

As such, the law seeks to impose the harshest possible civil penalties against sex offenders who engaged in cover-ups by awarding treble damages to survivors. If Naason Joaquin Garcia and his associates are guilty of committing sex crimes, and they attempted to cover-up those crimes, treble damages could be awarded to the affected survivors.

Does My Nationality or Citizenship Affect My Ability to File a Civil Lawsuit?

If the crime occurred in California, your nationality or citizenship does not impact your ability to file a sexual abuse civil lawsuit. Regardless of where you live or your immigration status, if you are a survivor of sexual abuse you absolutely have the right to file a civil lawsuit seeking a financial award for damages. At DLG, we represent survivors from all over the world, and we work with each individual client to ensure the legal process – from start to finish – is as easy and seamless as possible.

How Do I File a Civil Lawsuit as a Survivor of Sexual Abuse?

With the passage AB 218, many survivors are taking advantage of the limited opportunity that currently exists by coming forward to disclose instances of sexual abuse and expose the perpetrators who must be punished.

When I founded Dordulian Law Group after serving as Deputy District Attorney for Los Angeles County, my goal was to create not only a top-rated Los Angeles firm with talented and experienced attorneys, but one that offered a unique type of representation for sexual abuse survivors. I had worked hard to obtain life sentences against some of the city’s most heinous sex offenders, removing them from our streets and ensuring they were never able to commit another act of abuse. In the process, although I was able to help hundreds of survivors, I also saw firsthand the difficulty involved in coming forward to face one’s attacker. Such an act takes an indescribable amount of courage, and survivors deserve not only a fierce advocate in an attorney, but empathy and support throughout the legal process.

I established the firm’s Sex Crimes Division by assembling a handpicked team of sexual assault justice experts (SAJE) to provide survivors with not one, but four tiers of representation and support when pursuing a civil lawsuit. Through the creation of the DLG SAJE Team we’ve established one of the most prominent, respected, and successful California firms for sexual abuse survivors. Today, I’m honored to lead the SAJE Team and help countless survivors obtain justice.

Our Sexual Assault Justice Experts are here to help survivors secure justice. Contact our top-rated attorneys online or by phone for a free consultation today.

The Four Tiers of DLG SAJE Team Representation:

  1. Case Lead: Samuel Dordulian, former Deputy District Attorney for Los Angeles County
  2. Investigation Lead: Detective Moses Castillo, former 30-year LAPD sex crimes unit leader in the city’s elite Juvenile Division for Abused Children
  3. Support Lead: A licensed clinical therapist with 15 years of experience helping sexual abuse survivors
  4. Advocate Lead: Two in-house, licensed, and nationally accredited victim advocates who have decades of experience passionately advocating on behalf of survivors

As part of the DLG SAJE Team, I’m available 24/7 to survivors. It’s a responsibility I, together with each member of the SAJE Team, view with pride and dedication, and one I will never take for granted.

If you or someone you love would like to discuss a sexual abuse matter with a member of the SAJE Team, contact us today for a free, discreet, no obligation consultation. We’re happy to provide Californians with free legal advice pertaining to AB 218 or a sexual abuse matter.

When you’re ready, we’re here to help you obtain justice against your perpetrator.

Call 800-880-7777 or email us at: info@dlawgroup.com.

Go See Sam