FBI arrests Filipino church leaders in immigrant trafficking scam


dornoyega/iStock(LOS ANGELES) — The FBI arrested three administrators of a Filipino-based church Wednesday for allegedly trafficking in its members from Asia as part of a six-year fundraising scam.Guia Cabactulan, 59, Marissa Duenas, 41, and Amanda Estopare, 48, who are members of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, the Name Above Every Name (or KOJC), were picked up by agents in California and Virginia following raids of KOJC’s offices in Van Nuys, Glendale and Los Angeles, the FBI said.The three allegedly used a children’s foundation as a front to bring in its members from the Philippines and use them to beg for money on the street, the criminal complaint said.KOJC was created in 1985 in Davao, Philippines, by Apollo Quiboloy who claims to be “the Appointed Son of God.” It’s website claims there are 6 million members around the world.Investigators said as early as October 2013, the church would obtain visas for its members under the pretense that they would be performing in musical events in America, however once those members got to the country, they had their passports taken away and were forced to work as “volunteers,” to raise money. The workers were allegedly sent to various locations across the country and ask for money that they claimed went to aid Filipino children, according to the criminal complaint.The money, in reality, went to church operations, and between 2014 and mid-2019, KOJC collected close to $20 million from these donations, the FBI said. Workers were allegedly ordered to meet quotas that changed daily while they were collecting the donations, according to the complaint.KOJC administrators allegedly used several illicit tactics to keep workers in the country including sham marriages and phony enrollments in schools, and forced them to live in unsafe living conditions, according to the FBI.“KOJC workers often slept in their car overnight, parked at truck stops, or occasionally stayed in a small hotel room during their operations,” the complaint said.Several workers came forward to the FBI and gave them details accounts of their experiences as well as e-mails from their administrators that detailed their instructions in the alleged scam, the agency said.Cabactulan, who was the top U.S. KOJC administrator and had direct communications with leaders back in the Philippines, allegedly held on to the victims’ passports and oversaw the operations, according to the complaint. The FBI said Duenas was responsible for falsifying documents and information to immigration officials, while Estopare was allegedly in charge of the collections, according to the complaint.The three were expected to appear before a judge on immigration fraud charges on Wednesday afternoon. No attorney information was available. KOJC representatives could not be reached for comment.The church has come under scrutiny by federal investigators in the past. In September, a Hawaii manager of KOJC was charged with smuggling cash to the Philippines using Quiloboly’s private jet, according to the FBI. Quiboloy was briefly arrested in Hawaii in 2018 after federal agents found $350,000 in cash and parts to assemble a military rifle were found in his jet.The FBI has established a toll-free phone number for potential victims or anyone with information about KOJC activities to provide information,1-800-CALL FBI (1-800-225-5324). FBI operators fluent in English and Tagalog will staff the hotline. Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.