Three top administrators of a Philippines-based church are scheduled to be arraigned in Los Angeles next week on a federal charge alleging a labor-trafficking scheme in which church members were brought to the United States to work as fund-raisers, and sham marriages arranged to keep high-performing workers in the country.
The single-count indictment returned by a grand jury late Wednesday alleges a conspiracy to commit a series of offenses, including trafficking with respect to forced labor, document servitude, immigration fraud and marriage fraud. The charge carries a penalty of up to five years in federal prison.
The three defendants — Guia Cabactulan, Marissa Duenas and Amanda Estopare — were arrested last month after being named in a criminal complaint that alleged a conspiracy to commit immigration fraud. The indictment expands the scope of the alleged scheme and includes new details about the immigration fraud portion of the scheme, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
The defendants — who are expected to be arraigned Feb. 20 in Los Angeles federal court — were described as the main U.S. administrators of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, The Name Above Every Name.
The core allegations are that representatives of the church obtained visas for church members to enter the U.S. by claiming, for example, they would be performing at musical events. But once they arrived in the United States, the members were required to surrender their passports, and labor as full-time workers, soliciting donations for a church nonprofit called the Children’s Joy Foundation USA, prosecutors allege.
While the workers raised funds by telling donors their money would benefit impoverished children in the Philippines, the indictment alleges that most or all of the money raised was used to finance KOJC operations and the lavish lifestyles of church leaders.
While some KOJC workers knew they were entering the U.S. to be fund-raisers, the indictment alleges “other KOJC workers were unaware of the actual purpose until they 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.”
The defendants confiscated the victims’ passports and other immigration documents “to prevent and restrict … KOJC 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,” the indictment alleges.
When authorities searched the KOJC compound in Van Nuys last month, Cabactulan and Duenas possessed 72 Filipino passports, seven U.S. passports, and one Ukrainian passport that belonged to other people, according to the indictment, which also notes that Duenas possessed four male wedding rings and three female wedding rings in an office at the KOJC compound.
The search also revealed that Duenas possessed a file titled “Traitor” that contained information on KOJC members who fled the church, the indictment alleges.