Mexican officials broke up a bizarre cult that allegedly ran a sex-slavery ring among its followers on the U.S. border, Mexican immigration authorities said 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, according to an institute 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, according to a victims' advocacy group that said it filed a complaint more than a year ago about the cult.
Federal police, agents of Mexico's National Immigration Institute 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, according to an institute official.
The institute in a statement said 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 person from Argentina and one from Ecuador were also detained. Spain's Foreign Affairs Ministry confirmed 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 Attorney General's Office said the investigation was still under way as to 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 citizen Jose Arenas Losanger Segovia.
But according to the cult's website, 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, an activist with the Support Network for Cult Victims who has worked with victims of the Defenders of Christ cult.
He became involved in offering courses on "bio-programming," an esoteric practice that claims to allow practicants to "reprogram" their brains to eliminate pain, suffering and anxiety, according to institute.
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 Interior Department said the Defenders of Christ had 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.