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WATCH: NBI Raid Pastor Quiboloy's Church for Human Trafficking

WATCH: NBI Raid Pastor Quiboloy's Church for Human Trafficking

LOS ANGELES – Federal agents raided a Philippines-based church in Los Angeles Wednesday in a human trafficking investigation that led to the arrest of three church leaders.

Prosecutors said it was a decades-long scheme to trick followers into becoming fundraisers and arrange sham marriages to keep them in the United States.

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Guia Cabactulan, 59, local leader of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ Church, was arrested in Van Nuys on immigration fraud charges along with Marissa Duenas, 41, who allegedly confiscated passports of the victims of the scheme, the US attorney’s office said. Amanda Estopare, 48, who allegedly enforced fundraising quotas, was nabbed in Virginia.

Workers who managed to escape from the church told the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) that they had been sent across the US to work long hours soliciting donations year-round for the church’s charity and were beaten and psychologically abused if they did not make daily quotas, according to an affidavit filed in support of the charges. Some described having to live in cars at truck stops.

The immigrants essentially became full-time workers, sometimes referred to as “miracle workers,” 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 most of the money raised was used to finance church operations and the alleged lavish lifestyle of church leader Apollo Quiboloy.

Between 2014 and the middle of last year, $20 million was sent back to the church in the Philippines, the FBI said.

“Most of these funds appear to derive from street-level solicitations,” according to the affidavit by FBI Special Agent Anne Wetzel. “Little to no money solicited appears to benefit impoverished or in-need children.”

Investigators documented 82 sham marriages over a 20-year period between top fundraisers and church members who were US citizens.

In addition to raiding the church’s Van Nuys compound, FBI agents were conducting searches at other Los Angeles locations and two places in Hawaii linked to the church.

Two years ago, a leader of a Hawaii branch of the church, Felina Salinas, was arrested smuggling cash onto a private plane in Honolulu bound for the Philippines with Quiboloy on board, according to court records.

Investigators said Salinas declared she was carrying $40,000. But investigators said they discovered $335,000 and $9,000 in Australian currency stuffed in socks in her carry-on suitcase, according to documents filed in US District Court in Honolulu. US law requires that travelers declare currency in excess of $10,000.

Prosecutors said a witness saw Salinas and Quiboloy order church members to smuggle hundreds of thousands of dollars in black socks packed in suitcases from California to the Philippines in 2013 and 2014.

The camp of Quiboloy denied allegations of human trafficking, saying they are ready to face charges.

In a statement, Quiboloy’s lawyer, Israelito Torreon, said: “We are ready, able and willing to show and prove the innocence of the Kingdom.”

“We are awaiting our day in court,” he added.

Palace hands off probe

Malacañang will not intervene in the human trafficking probe on Quiboloy’s church in Los Angeles, which was raided by FBI agents, presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said.

Panelo said the Philippine government would not meddle in the issue as long as the FBI operation was legitimate.

“The administration’s stance of not meddling into the affairs of another state remains even if Quiboloy is a close friend of the President,” he said.

The church claims a membership of six million people and backed the 2016 candidacy of President Duterte.

Duterte has used the group’s radio and TV program in Davao City to express his views on issues way back when he was mayor of the southern port city.

The Filipino community in California lauded the FBI raid on the US-based church of Quiboloy.

“This is long overdue. For the longest time, the church has been using minors in their fund-raising activities,” said a Filipino-American who resides in LA.

Quiboloy claims to be the “appointed son of God.” In October last year, he claimed he stopped a major earthquake from doing more damage in the southern Philippines.

Source: MSN

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