LOS ANGELES (CN) – Three leaders of a Philippines-based church were arrested Wednesday on suspicion of orchestrating a plan to bring church members to the United States to work long hours as “miracle worker” donation collectors.
According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California, leaders of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, The Name Above Every Name (KOJC) church obtained visas for members in the Philippines after telling U.S. authorities the members would perform music at church fundraisers.
But once church members arrived in the U.S., KOJC leaders confiscated their passports and forced the new arrivals to work long hours as “miracle workers” soliciting donations for a church nonprofit called Children’s Joy Foundation USA (CJF). Prosecutors say the workers told donors the funds would support poor children in the Philippines.
Instead of using the donations to support children, however, church members used the money to finance church operations and the church leader’s lavish lifestyle, according to a 42-page affidavit in support of the criminal complaint.
“Bank records show that KOJC accounts received approximately $20 million in cash deposits from 2014 through mid-2019, [and] most of these funds appear to derive from street-level solicitation,” the affidavit said, adding that “little to no money solicited appears to benefit impoverished or in-need children.”
The new arrivals were forced to work long hours with little or no pay and often sent cash back to church leaders in the Philippines. Church leaders also forced workers to marry church members who are U.S. citizens in sham arrangements meant to secure student visas, prosecutors say.
The scheme may stretch as far back as 20 years, according to immigration records reviewed by federal authorities, and involve as many as 82 marriages.
Federal authorities arrested church administrators Guia Cabactulan, 59, and Marissa Duenas, 41, early Wednesday at a KOJC property in Van Nuys, California, where they reside.
According to the complaint, Duenas handled fake immigration documents and was tasked with confiscating church workers’ passports once they entered the U.S.
Duenas and Cabactulan – the top KOJC official in the U.S. – are expected to make their initial court appearances Wednesday afternoon in U.S. District Court in Santa Ana, California.
Church leader Amanda Estopare, 48, who authorities say handled church finances and set quotas for workers, was arrested Wednesday in Virginia.
Workers who did not meet certain quotas set by Estopare were abused by church leaders, according to testimony provided to federal authorities by workers who fled KOJC churches.
A church spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Along with conducting interviews as part of a nationwide investigation, federal agents also executed search warrants this week at KOJC properties in Hawaii and in the Southern California cities of Van Nuys, Glendale and Los Angeles.