FBI raids church amid human trafficking and fraud investigation

Federal agents raided the Kingdom of Jesus Christ church in Van Nuys on Jan 29, 2020. [Image credit: KTLA]

Early in the morning hours of Wednesday, January 29th, agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation raided the Van Nuys location of a Philippines based church known as the Kingdom of Jesus Christ.


Workers that claimed to have escaped the church told federal agents that they were forced to work long hours while being sent across the United States to solicit donations for the church's charity, Children's Joy Foundation, which was to help poor children in the Philippines.  Some reported that they had to live out of vehicles at truck stops.


The workers additionally told agents that they would be beaten and psychologically abused if they did not meet established quotas.


Allegations against the church include the confiscation of member passports and the arrangement of 82 sham marriages over a 20 year period in order to keep people in the United States.


Arrested in the raid were Guia Cabactulan, 59, the top church official in the U.S. and with Marissa Duenas, 41, who allegedly handled fraudulent immigration documents, both located at the Van Nuys location, prosecutors said. Amanda Estopare, 48, who allegedly enforced fundraising quotas, was arrested in Virginia.


“Most of these funds appear to derive from street-level solicitation,” according to the affidavit by FBI Special Agent Anne Wetzel. “Little to no money solicited appears to benefit impoverished or in-need children.”


Instead, those donations helped to fund the lavish lifestyle of the self-appointed "son of god" Apollo Quiboloy, leader of the church.  According to the FBI, between 2014 and the middle of last year, $20 million was sent back to the Philippines.


In an official statement form an attorney for Quiboloy, Israelito Torreon denied the allegations and even current affiliation with the arrested church workers saying that the allegations were a "grand conspiracy of lies" hatched by individuals that were retaliating for discipline.


“Their aim, therefore, is to exact revenge, extortion commingled with a brazen but shameless desire to put (Quiboloy) and the (church) as a whole into a quagmire of shame, blatant humiliation and defeat through trumped-up charges,” the statement read.


In a court appearance yesterday, U.S. District Judge Autumn Spaeth denied bond for Guia Cabactulan and Marissa Duenas agreeing with prosecution that they posed too much of a flight risk, while allowing Omar Rodriguez Jr. out on $35,000 bond.  Rodriguez' attorney indicated that his involvement with the church was limited to "doing a favor" for his uncle.


Estopare is scheduled for a detainment hearing on Monday in Virginia.