Three employees of a church in the Philippines in Los Angeles have been charged as part of an alleged scheme to induce followers to become fund-raisers and organize fake weddings to keep them in the United States.
Federal agents arrested local leaders of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ church during an operation last month. They were charged on Wednesday. Conspiring to commit forced labor trafficking and immigration and marriage fraud were some of the charges, Los Angeles Times reported.
Guia Cabactulan, 59, was the church's top authority in the United States, according to the prosecution. Marissa Duenas, 41, allegedly handled immigration issues as the "human resources leader" and investigators believe Amanda Estopare, 48, tracked fundraising and channeled money to the church leadership in the Philippines, the newspaper reported Thursday. market.
A magistrate judge ordered the three women to be detained after their arrests last month. Cabactulan and Duenas 'lawyers did not immediately respond to the Times' requests for comment. It was not clear from court records whether Estopare hired a lawyer.
Israelito Torreon, a lawyer for the church in the Philippines, previously denied all charges. Torreon said the US accusations resulted from a campaign, carried out by disgruntled former members, "to take revenge" and drag the church and its leader, Apollo Quiboloy, "into a swamp of shame, blatant humiliation and defeat".
Quiboloy was neither accused nor identified by name in court documents; prosecutors and agents referred only to the "leader" of the church, the Times said.
Workers who say they managed to escape the church told the FBI that they had been sent by the U.S. to work long hours requesting donations to the church's charity and were beaten and psychologically abused if they didn't make daily quotas, according to a statement . filed last month in support of the charges. Some described having to live in cars at the truck stops.
Immigrants have essentially become full-time workers, sometimes called "miracles", in a crusade to raise money for the nonprofit Children´s Joy Foundation USA, which was supposed to benefit poor children in their homeland. But the complaint said that most of the money raised was used to finance church operations and finance the leaders' luxurious lifestyle.
The church claims 6 million people and supported the 2016 candidacy of President Rodrigo Duterte, a close friend of Quiboloy.
Between 2014 and mid-last year, $ 20 million was sent to the church in the Philippines, the FBI reported.
The investigators documented 82 fake marriages over a 20-year period between major fund-raisers and church members who were US citizens.