TWO of the three Filipino church leaders of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ (KOJC) based in the United States indicted on human trafficking, labor trafficking, and immigration fraud have pleaded not guilty before a U.S. court on Thursday, February 20.
Guia Cabactulan, 59, and Marissa Duenas, 41, both of whom were arrested last month in Van Nuys, California, both entered their not guilty pleas during their brief appearances.
Cabactulan was reportedly the top KOJC official in the U.S. who maintained direct communication with church leadership in the Philippines, while Duenas allegedly handled the fraudulent immigration documents for KOJC workers and secured the passports immediately after workers entered the U.S., according to the FBI.
The third official, 48-year-old Amanda Estopare, who allegedly handled the financial aspects of the KOJC enterprise, did not appear before the court.
The three defendants were charged by a federal grand jury in California with overseeing a long-running scheme that forced followers to solicit donations for a bogus charity.
The one-count indictment returned by the grand jury alleged that Cabactulan, Duenas, and Estopare conspired to commit a series of offenses, which includes trafficking with respect to forced labor, document servitude, immigration fraud and marriage fraud.
Cabactulan and Duenas were arrested last month by FBI agents after KOJC’s offices were raided in Van Nuys, Glendale and Los Angeles. Estopare was arrested in Virginia.
The three reportedly used a children’s foundation as a front to bring in its members from the Philippines and force them to work as “volunteers” to raise money to aid Filipino children. However, the money went to church operations instead, as well as to fund KOJC founder Apollo Quiboloy’s lavish lifestyle.
“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 17-page indictment said.
They also employed several illicit mechanisms like sham marriages and phony enrollments in schools to keep the members in the country.
According to the indictment, around 72 Philippine passports, seven U.S. passports and one Ukraine passport as well as wedding rings were found by authorities when they raided KOJC compound in Van Nuys, California.
The search also revealed that Duenas possessed a file titled “Traitor” that contained information on KOJC members who fled the church.
‘A grand conspiracy of lies’
Israelito Torreon, Quiboloy’s spokesman, previously denied the allegations against the three KOJC church administrators, saying that former members of the church provided the Federal Bureau of Investigation with false information.
“We are ready, able, and willing to show and prove the innocence of the administrators of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ,” he said last month.
“We will show to you that this is nothing but a grand conspiracy of lies concocted by former members of the kingdom who struck an alliance with forces who have an axe to grind against Pastor Apollo C. Quiboloy. They are into this grand conspiracy to put to shame PACQ,” Torreon added.
KOJC claims a membership of 6 million people around the world.
Its founder, Quiboloy — self-proclaimed to be “the appointed son of God” — has close ties with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.
Malacañang, for its part, said it would not meddle with the FBI’s human trafficking probe on KOJC.
“The administration’s stance of not meddling into the affairs of another state remains even if Quiboloy is a close friend of the President,” Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said.
“You must remember that if a crime is committed in any country, then the laws of that country will have to be followed. We have to respect them the way we ask them to respect ours,” he added.
The FBI has established a toll-free phone number for potential victims or anyone with information about KOJC activities to provide information. The information line is 1-800-CALL FBI (1-800-225-5324), and it will be staffed by English- and Tagalog-speaking personnel. Individuals may also contact the FBI through its website at https://www.fbi.gov/tips.