The FBI has raided a Los Angeles church as part of a human trafficking and immigration fraud investigation.
The local leader of the Philippines-based Kingdom of Jesus Christ church has been charged with immigration fraud and a staff member has been charged for their role in taking passports away from victims.
The Associated Press reports that the church was running a “decades-long scheme to trick followers into becoming fundraisers and arrange sham marriages to keep them in the U.S.”
“Fundraisers who managed to escape from the church told the FBI that they had been sent across the U.S. to solicit donations for the church’s charity, The Children’s Joy Foundation, and were beaten if they didn’t make daily quotas, according to affidavit filed in support of the charges. Some described having to live in cars at truck stops,” the AP report explained.
An FBI Agent involved with the investigation told AP that they had documented 82 sham marriages over a 20-year period and tracked $20 million raised between 2014 and the middle of last year that was sent back to the church in the Philippines.
“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.”
The FBI raided the church’s Van Nuys compound and were also searching two other Los Angeles locations and two in Hawaii that were connected to the group.