An associate pastor suspected of sexually abusing female parishioners at a Norwalk church over the course of nearly eight years was behind bars Thursday.
Jorge Juan Castro, 53, was booked on suspicion of rape, oral copulation and penetration by a foreign object following his Sept. 13 arrest, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
Castro, who worked as an associate pastor and counselor at the Buenas Nuevas Church in Norwalk, allegedly assaulted the women from October 2004 through September 2012.
Many of the victims were Spanish-speaking undocumented immigrants who Castro allegedly threatened with deportation and public embarrassment, according to the sheriff’s department.
More than 20 women, ranging in age from 18 to 39, contacted a third-party who then let sheriff’s deputies know about the accusations.
However, only four of the alleged victims have come forward to law enforcement.
“We’re here to tell the victims, and any other potential victims, that law enforcement is here to help them. We will not report to immigration. We will not deport them. We’re here to help them and to prevent any future abuses by the suspect,” Sgt. Al Garcia of the sheriff’s department said.
A former church member who knew Castro personally said he was a happy, charming man, and she saw no warning signs when she went to him for counseling a few years ago.
“I can really state that he never ever did anything to me,” Carmen Pichardo, a former church member, said.
“I feel really bad for the victims, and I feel bad as well for his wife. Imagine his wife, how she must feel. And then he has four kids,” Pichardo said.
Castro, who was being held on $2million bail, was also an associate pastor at Oasis Community Church in Riverside County.
There were no known victims from that church, officials said.
Castro moved to the Los Angeles area from Argentina in 2004, according to the sheriff’s department.
Anyone with further information was asked to contact sheriff’s Special Victims Bureau detectives at 877-710-5273. Those who wished to remain anonymous may call LA Crime Stoppers at 800-222-8477 (TIPS).