Mexican officials broke up a bizarre cult that allegedly ran a sex slavery ring among its followers on the US border, Mexican immigration authorities said on Tuesday.
The Defensores de Cristo, or Defenders of Christ, allegedly recruited women to have sex with a Spanish man who claimed he was the reincarnation of Christ, said an immigration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to speak publicly about the case.
Followers were subjected to forced labor or sexual services, including prostitution, said a victims’ advocacy group that says it filed a complaint about the cult more than a year ago.
Federal police, Mexican National Immigration Institute agents and prosecutors raided a house earlier this week near Nuevo Laredo, across the border from Laredo, Texas, and found cult members — including children — living in filthy conditions, an institute official said.
The institute said in a statement that 14 foreigners were detained in the raid and have been turned over to prosecutors, pending possible charges. Those detained include six Spaniards, and two people each from Brazil, Bolivia and Venezuela. One Argentine and one Ecuadoran were also detained. The Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed that its citizens were among those arrested.
The institute said 10 Mexicans were also found at the house — mainly women — and are presumably among the victims of the cult.
The Mexican Attorney General’s Office said an investigation was still under way to determine what charges, if any, might apply in the case. Given the binds of sect loyalty that had been built over an estimated three years, prosecutors were still trying to work out which of the detainees may be considered victims and which were abusers.
The institute statement said the sect’s leaders made members pay “tithes,” with money or forced labor.
The institute said in a statement that the Defenders of Christ was headed by Venezuelan Jose Arenas Losanger Segovia.
However, the cult’s Web site says that the leader was Spaniard Ignacio Gonzalez de Arriba. He set up shop in Mexico about three years ago, after a stint in Brazil and other parts of South America, said Myrna Garcia from the Support Network for Cult Victims who has worked with victims of the cult.
Gonzalez de Arriba became involved in offering courses on “bio-programming,” an esoteric practice that claims to allow practitioners to reprogram their brains to eliminate pain, suffering and anxiety, the institute said.
Neither Gonzalez de Arriba nor Losanger Segovia could be reached for comment on Tuesday. A number listed in an advertisement for the bio-programming courses was disconnected. It was not clear if they were among those detained.
The cult thrived in an area of Mexico that is tightly controlled by the violent Zetas drug cartel.
The Mexican Department of the Interior said that the Defenders of Christ are not registered as a religious group, as required under Mexican law. Garcia said cells of the cult might still be active in Peru and Argentina.