3 Filipino Church Leaders Arrested for Immigrant-Trafficking Scheme

January 30, 2020 Updated: January 30, 2020
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Three top administrators of a Philippines-based church were arrested by authorities on Jan. 29 for allegedly participating in an immigration fraud scheme that brought church members to the United States to work as “fundraisers,” and then took away their passports and forced them to work long hours.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California, The Kingdom of Jesus Christ, the Name Above Every Name church obtained visas for church members to enter the United States by claiming, for example, they would be performing at musical events.

However, once they arrived in the United States, they were forced to hand over their passports and made to work long hours as full-time workers, who were also called “miracle workers” to collect donations for the Children’s Joy Foundation USA (CJF), claiming the money would help support impoverished children in the Philippines. Those that did not meet the daily “cash solicitation quota” were subjected to abuse, victims who fled KOJC told authorities.

Instead of using the donations to help children, however, church members used all of the money raised to finance KOJC operations and the church leader’s lavish lifestyle, according to the criminal complaint.

“Bank 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.”

Some of the “miracle workers” who performed well were also forced to marry other KOJC members who were U.S. citizens, or to obtain student visas and enrol in schools.

Over the past 20 years, there were 82 marriages involving KOJC administrators and individuals bought to the United States under the illegal scheme, according to the affidavit.

The defendants have been named as Guia Cabactulan, 59, who is the top KOJC official in the United States who maintained direct communication with KOJC leadership in the Philippines, and Marissa Duenas, 41, who allegedly handled fraudulent immigration documents for KOJC workers and secured the passports immediately after workers entered the United States.

Both were arrested on Wednesday morning at a KOJC compound in Van Nuys, where they lived and were expected to appear in court the same day.

The third defendant is named as Amanda Estopare, 48, who allegedly handled the financial aspects of the KOJC enterprise, including enforcing fundraising quotas for KOJC workers. She was arrested in Virginia, officials said.

All three are described as the main administrators of KOJC in the United States.

Along with Wednesday’s arrests of the three administrators, federal agents also executed search warrants this week at KOJC properties in Hawaii and in the Southern California cities of Van Nuys, Glendale, and Los Angeles.

Law enforcement are currently interviewing witnesses across the United States as part of their investigation into the organization.

According to its website, The Kingdom of Jesus Christ, the Name Above Every Name is a religious organization created in Davao, Philippines, in 1985 by Pastor Apollo C. Quiboloy. The website states that there are currently 6 million members across 200 countries.

This is not the first time the KOJC church has been investigated by authorities. In September 2019, a Hawaii manager of KOJC was charged with smuggling cash to the Philippines using Quiboloy’s private jet, ABC reported.

The pastor was also briefly detained by authorities in Hawaii in 2018 after federal agents found piles of cash amounting to $350,000 and parts to assemble a military rifle in his jet.