STORY: The head of a megachurch based in Mexico, La Luz del Mundo, has been sentenced to nearly 17 years in prison for sexually abusing young girls.
Naason Joaquin Garcia is the leader and self-styled apostle of the Guadalajara-based church, which claims nearly 5 million followers worldwide.
He pleaded guilty to two counts of abuse last Friday, in return for prosecutors dismissing the majority of the charges he faced, including multiple charges of rape, conspiracy to engage in human trafficking and child pornography.
Judge Ronald Cohen was visibly emotional when he handed down the jail sentence in Los Angeles on Wednesday, apologizing for not being able to do more for the victims.
“As for the Jane Does... At this point, I apologize, my hands are tied. Lawyers do what lawyers do, at this point, my hands are tied. But I further want to tell all the Jane Does that the world has heard you. I promise you that."
Garcia's sentencing caps an investigation that began in 2018, leading to his arrest the following year at Los Angeles International Airport.
But Garcia's accusers have decried the plea deal as too lenient.
One of Garcia's alleged victims, Sochil Martin, vowed on Wednesday to keep fighting for justice.
“This is just getting started. LDM and your criminal institution and every politician, whether it's here, Colombia, Mexico, Europe. We're taking this to the federal authorities, if it's the last thing I do.”
Two other church associates charged with Garcia have reached separate plea deals, while a fourth person remains at large.
La Luz del Mundo has publicly stood by Garcia and argued that he accepted a plea deal because he believed he could not get a fair trial.
Under the deal, Garcia will also be registered as a sex offender for life.