Mon | Mar 30, 2020

LA church leaders charged with marriage, immigration fraud

Published:Friday | February 14, 2020 | 1:15 PM
In this Wednesday, January 29, 2020, file photo, crime scene tape is seen closing off an area around the grounds of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ Church in the Van Nuys section of Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Three officials with a Philippines-based church in Los Angeles have been charged as part of an alleged scheme to trick followers into becoming fundraisers and arrange sham marriages to keep them in the United States.

Federal agents arrested the local leaders of Kingdom of Jesus Christ church during a raid last month.

They were each charged Wednesday. Conspiring to commit forced labour trafficking and immigration and marriage fraud were some of the charges, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Guia Cabactulan, 59, was the church’s top official in the United States, according to the indictment.

Marissa Duenas, 41, allegedly handled immigration matters as the “human resources leader” and investigators believe Amanda Estopare, 48, tracked fundraising and funnelled money to the church’s leadership in the Philippines, the newspaper reported Thursday.

A magistrate judge had ordered all three women detained after their arrests last month.

Attorneys for Cabactulan and Duenas didn’t immediately respond to requests from the Times for comment. It was unclear from court records if Estopare had retained a lawyer.

Israelito Torreon, an attorney for the church in the Philippines, previously denied all accusations.

Torreon said the US charges stemmed from a campaign, waged by disgruntled ex-members, “to exact revenge” and drag the church and its leader, Apollo Quiboloy, “into a quagmire of shame, blatant humiliation and defeat.”

Quiboloy was neither charged nor identified by name in court documents; prosecutors and agents have referred only to the church’s “leader,” the Times said.

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