On Thursday, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced an indictment against three top-administrators of a church based in the Philippines. According to the news release, the one-count indictment handed down alleges a conspiracy involving a series of crimes, including trafficking related to forced labor, document servitude, marriage and immigration fraud.
The core allegations of the case are that representatives of the church – the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, The Name Above Every Name (KOJC) – obtained visas for church members to enter the U.S. by claiming, for example, they would be performing at musical events. But once the church members arrived in the United States, they were required to surrender their passports and work long hours as “FTWs” (full-time workers), who solicited donations for a church non-profit called the Children’s Joy Foundation USA (CJF). While the workers raised funds by telling donors their money would benefit impoverished children in the Philippines, the indictment alleges that most or all of the money raised was used to finance KOJC operations and the lavish lifestyles of church leaders.
The ongoing investigation into KOJC is being conducted by the FBI, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), 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.
While some KOJC workers knew they were entering the U.S. to be fundraisers, the indictment alleges “other KOJC workers were unaware of the actual purpose until they were forced…to solicit on the streets nearly every day, year-round, working very long hours, and often sleeping in cars overnight, without normal access to over-the-counter medicine or even clothes.”
The defendants confiscated the victims’ passports and other immigration documents “to prevent and restrict…KOJC workers’ liberty to move and travel in order to maintain the labor and services of KOJC workers, some of whom were and had been a victim of a severe form of trafficking,” according to the indictment.
The three administrators were arrested in late January and stand accused of participating in different aspects of the alleged conspiracy. In order to keep the productive workers in the United States, the three defendants are accused of arranging sham marriages and obtaining bogus student visas for the trafficked laborers. The long-running conspiracy racked up 82 marriages between KOJC workers who were citizens of the United States, according to the complaint.
If convicted, the defendants face up to five years in federal prison for their role in the alleged conspiracy. The defendants are scheduled to be arraigned in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles on Feb. 20.