Filipino Church Leaders Arrested After FBI Unearths $20 Million Trafficking Scam

The FBI, on Wednesday, arrested three leaders of a Filipino Church in connection with a trafficking and fundraising scam. According to ABC News, the three arrested members were identified as Guia Cabactulan, 59, Marissa Duenas, 41, and Amanda Estopare, 48. The trio was allegedly also involved in trafficking members from Asia and were the kingpins of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ (KOJC) in the U.S.

The arrests happened after the FBI conducted raids in KOJC's offices located in Van Nuys, Glendale, and Los Angeles. The three accused were picked up by a separate team of FBI agents in California and Virginia.

A criminal complaint filed against the trio accused them of using a sham children's foundation to recruit members from the Philippines. It alleges that the church obtained visas for these members fraudulently under the pretense that they would perform musical events across the U.S. Upon reaching the country, however, the passports of the members were taken away. They were then forced to act as "volunteers" who traveled across the country to raise funds for the church.

Some members of the church told the FBI that they were forced to beg on the streets for money. Church members were also asked to sleep inside their cars overnight and were occasionally allowed to stay in cheap hotel rooms

Many of these members allege that the leaders also told them to tell potential donors that all the money collected went for a good cause -- aiding poor Filipino children back in the Philippines. However, none of the collected funds were used to provide aid. Instead, the FBI alleges that almost all of the cash went into church operations. They also estimate that the KOJC was able to collect more than $20 million between 2014 and 2018.

Workers were reportedly given daily quotas and had targets to meet as well. Often kept in unsafe living conditions, the church leaders also employed several illegal tactics to keep these workers in the country. Many of the workers were forced into sham marriages, and fraudulent enrollments in schools were commonplace, the complaint alleges.

The FBI complaint has identified Guia Cabactulan as the leader of KOJCs operations in the U.S. He allegedly had direct communication with the church leaders in the Philippines. He was also identified as the person who held on to the passports of the victims and was also involved in the falsification of documents. Amanda Estopare, on the other hand, was responsible for the collections and the financial aspects of KOJC's U.S. operations.

FBI's actions came following complaints and detailed accounts from several existing and past members of the KOJC. The three arrested members appeared before a judge on immigration fraud charges on Wednesday afternoon.

The ABC News report adds that KOJC was founded in 1985 by a man known as Apollo Quiboloy. The church claims to have more than 6 million members across the globe, with a vast majority of them in the Philippines.

Meanwhile, the FBI has announced that they have set up a toll-free helpline reachable at 800-CALL FBI (1-800-225-5324) with operators fluent in English and Tagalog. This helpline, the FBI says, can be used by victims to provide them with additional information.