VAN NUYS (CBSLA) — Three church leaders have been arrested after federal agents raided a Van Nuys church this morning.
Prosecutors said the Philippines-based Kingdom of Jesus Christ, The Name Above Every Name church was participating in an immigration fraud scheme — obtaining visas for church members to come to the United States by claiming, for example, they would be performing at musical events.
But once the church members arrived, the federal criminal complaint alleges that the church took their passports and forced them to work long hours as fundraisers soliciting donations for a church non-profit called the Children’s Joy Foundation USA. The church then allegedly arranged sham marriages to keep top performers in the country.
According to the affidavit, victims who fled the church claimed the workers were forced to put in long hours, often traveling across the country, with minimal pay and suffered abuse if fundraising quotas were not met.
The complaint further alleged that most or all of the money raised was used to finance church operations and the church leader’s lavish lifestyle.
“[B]ank records show that [church] 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 noted that “little to no money solicited appears to benefit impoverished or in-need children.”
Two of the three defendants were arrested in Van Nuys:
- Guia Cabactulan, 59, the top church official in the United States who maintained direct communication with church leadership in the Philippines;
- Marissa Duenas, 41, who allegedly handled fraudulent immigration documents for church workers and secured the passports immediately after workers entered the U.S.
The third defendant was arrested in Virginia:
- Amanda Estopare, 48, who allegedly handled the financial aspects of the church enterprise, including enforcing fundraising quotas for church workers.
Cabactulan and Duenas were expected to appear in court Wednesday afternoon in Santa Ana.