Filipino Church Leaders Indicted in Immigration Scam

SANTA ANA, Calif. (CN) – A federal grand jury in California has returned an indictment against three administrators of a Philippines-based church accused of orchestrating a scheme to bring church members to the United States to work long hours as “miracle worker” donation collectors.

The one-count indictment returned by the grand jury late Wednesday accuses leaders of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, the Name Above Every Name, church of fraudulently obtaining visas for members in the Philippines after telling U.S. authorities the members would perform music at church fundraisers.

Abbreviating the name of the church, authorities say, in fact, church leaders forced the new arrivals to work long hours as “miracle workers” soliciting donations for a subsidiary called Children’s Joy Foundation USA.

Prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California said in a criminal complaint that workers were forced to tell 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 the complaint.

The 17-page indictment says some church members were forced to “solicit on the streets nearly every day, year-round, working very long hours, and often sleeping in cars overnight, without normal access to over-the-counter medicine or even clothes.”

Church leaders also confiscated workers’ passports in an effort to hamper “workers’ liberty to move and travel in order to maintain the labor and services of KOJC workers, some of whom were and had been a victim of a severe form of trafficking,” according to the indictment.

More than 80 forced marriages between new arrivals and church members who are U.S. citizens were another element of the visa fraud scheme, which may stretch back 20 years, according to the indictment.

Statements and documents were prepared by church administrators for members to submit to immigration authorities in order to avoid detection of fraudulent activity, prosecutors say.

In January, federal authorities arrested church administrators Guia Cabactulan, 59, and Marissa Duenas, 41, at a KOJC property in California. Church leader Amanda Estopare, 48, who authorities say handled church finances and set quotas for workers, was arrested in Virginia.

The indictment says Cabactulan and Duenas possessed bank cards to deceive immigration officials into thinking the sham marriages were legitimate and that couples held joint-bank accounts.

The pair even had wedding rings that were used in sham ceremonies.

When Cabactulan and Duenas were arrested last month, they possessed 72 Filipino passports, seven U.S. passports and one Ukrainian passport belonging to other people, authorities said in a statement Thursday.

All three defendants are scheduled to be arraigned Feb. 20 in Los Angeles before U.S. District Judge Terry Hatter Jr.

A church spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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