Kingdom of Jesus Christ officials face federal charges for human trafficking, immigration fraud
THE camp of televangelist Apollo Quiboloy on Thursday, January 30, claimed that former members of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ (KOJC) church provided the Federal Bureau of Investigation with false information that led to the arrests of three KOJC administrators in the United States.
Israelito Torreon, Quiboloy’s spokesman, denied the allegations, after three top administrators of the Philippines-based church on Wednesday, January 29 were arrested on federal charges of participating in an immigration fraud scheme.
The charges include bringing church members to the U.S. to work as fundraisers and arranging sham marriages, among other illegal tactics.
“We are ready, able, and willing to show and prove the innocence of the administrators of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ,” Torreon told media.
U.S. federal agents arrested Guia Cabactulan, 59, and Marissa Duenas, 41, at the KOJC compound in Van Nuys, California, where they both lived. Amanda Estopare, 48, meanwhile, was nabbed in Virginia.
“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.
He maintained that former church members made the allegations after Quiboloy ordered financial audits on some of his officials.
Cabactulan was the top KOJC official in the U.S. who maintained direct communication with church leadership in the Philippines, while Duenas allegedly handled fraudulent immigration documents for KOJC workers and secured the passports immediately after workers entered the U.S., the federal complaint said.
Estopare allegedly handled the financial aspects of the KOJC enterprise, including enforcing fundraising quotas for KOJC workers.
The federal criminal complaint said the three reportedly used a children’s foundation as a front to bring in its members from the Philippines and used children to beg for money on the street.
“[B]ank records show that KOJC accounts received approximately $20 million in cash deposits from 2014 through mid-2019,…[and] most of these funds appear to derive from street-level solicitation,” according to the affidavit, which notes that “little to no money solicited appears to benefit impoverished or in-need children.”
They also employed several illicit mechanisms like sham marriages and phony enrollments in schools to keep the members in the country, the complaint added.
Prosecutors noted that donations were solicited by the church members for the nonprofit Children’s Joy Foundation USA, but instead of going to poor Filipino children, the money went to church operations, as well as to fund Quiboloy’s lavish lifestyle.
The affidavit summarizes the experiences of a series of victims who fled KOJC and provided information to the FBI over the past several years.
Some of the victims described being sent across the U.S. to solicit donations, working long hours to reach their daily quotas, receiving little to no pay for their efforts, and participating in sending large sums of cash back to the Philippines on commercial and private flights.
KOJC claims a membership of six million people around the world.
Its founder, Quiboloy — self-proclaimed to be “the appointed son of God” — has close ties with 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 Thursday.
He also stressed that the Palace would not complain as long as the FBI operation is legitimate.
“If the raid is legitimate, then we cannot complain on that,” he said.
Panelo added, “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.”
On Wednesday, federal agents also executed search warrants at the KOJC compound in Van Nuys, the CJF office in Glendale, and three other locations in the Los Angeles area.
Searches were also conducted at two locations linked to KOJC in Hawaii, and agents fanned out across the United States to interview witnesses as part of a larger investigation into the organization.
The charge of conspiracy to commit immigration fraud carries a statutory maximum penalty of five years in federal prison.
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.
The ongoing investigation into KOJC is being led by the FBI, which is receiving substantial assistance from Homeland Security Investigations, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service’s Fraud Detection and National Security Unit, the U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service, and IRS Criminal Investigation. n