By Brian Melley | Associated Press

LOS ANGELES — Naasón Joaquín García, the leader of Mexican megachurch La Luz del Mundo, dropped his vigorous denials of sexually abusing girls and pleaded guilty Friday just days before facing trial, California state prosecutors said.

García, 53, pleaded guilty in Los Angeles Superior Court to two counts of forcible oral copulation involving minors and one count of a lewd act upon a child who was 15. He had faced trial Monday on charges that included child rape and human trafficking to produce child pornography.

Garcia, leader of a church founded by his grandfather that has 5 million worldwide followers, used his spiritual influence to have sex with several female followers, prosecutors said.

“García used his power to take advantage of children,” Attorney General Rob Bonta said in a statement. “He relied on those around him to groom congregants for the purposes of sexual assault. Today’s conviction can never undo the harm, but it will help protect future generations.”

The guilty plea is an abrupt turn from the vigorous denials by his lawyers and ardent support from the Guadalajara-based church and his followers. The church and Garcia’s lawyers did not immediately comment on the guilty plea.

Sentencing was scheduled for Wednesday. Garcia remains jailed on $90 million bail.

Since his arrest in 2019, Garcia was facing another hurdle at trial.

One of his a co-defendants, Alondra Ocampo, a church member who has since pleaded guilty and admitted she facilitated and participated in the abuse, was poised to testify against him.

Attorney Fred Thiagarajah, who represents the former church youth group leader, said Ocampo would be the star witness who could corroborate the testimony of victims and provide context for the prosecutor’s case.

“She actively recruited and groomed girls for him,” Thiagarajah said. “She would target girls and bring them into his inner fold. She was tasked with sexualizing these girls and facilitating their abuse.”

Ocampo told girls that if they rebuffed the wishes and desires of “the apostle,” they were going against God, according to the charges.

She encouraged girls to wear skimpy outfits and dance for Garcia, who then “gave them a speech about a king having mistresses and stated that an apostle of God can never be judged for his actions,” the charges state.

Ocampo told three girls that Garcia would be pleased to receive nude selfies of them and she even orchestrated pornographic photo shoots of them touching each other that she said would be sent to Garcia.

Garcia thanked the girls for the photos, according to court documents.

Another female co-defendant who was a member of the church, Susana Medina Oaxaca, pleaded guilty Friday to assault likely to cause great bodily injury.

Mexican megachurch leader pleads guilty to sex abuse