VAN NUYS, California (UPDATE) -- Three administrators of Pastor Apollo Quiboloy's Kingdom of Jesus Christ were arrested here on Wednesday (Thursday on Manila) on allegation of conspiracy to commit immigration fraud, the Federal Bureau of Investigation said.
The complaint alleges a "years-long scheme" to bring full-time workers to the US under "false pretenses," turning them into fund-raisers and marrying them with church members who are US citizens to keep them in the country, the US Department of Justice said in a statement.
The trio was accused of securing US visas for fellow church members and requiring them to solicit donations for a charity called Children's Joy Foundation USA, the FBI said.
The arrested church members were identified in the statement as Guia Cabactulan, 59, a "top official" of the church who had direct communications with its Philippines' leadership; Marissa Duenas, 41, who allegedly handled immigration documents and kept the victims' passports; and Amanda Estopare, 48, who handled "financial aspects" and fundraising.
"They are forcing these individuals, in some cases, to work all day, solicit funds, for what they are saying for impoverished children in the Philippines. In reality, we believe the money is going to fund the lavish lifestyles of the leaders of this scheme," said Laura Eimillier, a spokeswoman for the FBI.
The recruits work "every single day, for little or no pay," Eimillier said. "If they don't raise enough money, we believe they are abused physically as well," she said.
"We are asking anyone who believe they might be a victim or may know something about a victim, we're asking those people to come forward," she said.
Federal agents served search warrants on the Kingdom of Jesus Christ compound in Van Nuys, an office in Glendale and 3 other locations in the Los Angeles area. Two locations in Hawaii were also searched, according to the statement from the US Department of Justice.
"Agents fanned out across the United States to interview witnesses as part of a larger investigation into the organization," it said.
DUTERTE ADMIN HANDS OFF
Malacañang meanwhile said it respects the raid, maintaining the need to adhere to laws.
Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said the Palace respects the US legal process, adding that it does not matter whether Quiboloy is a close friend of President Rodrigo Duterte.
“If the raid is legitimate then we cannot complain on that,” Panelo told reporters in Malacañang on Thursday.
“You must remember that if a crime is committed in any country then the laws of that country will have to be followed. We have to respect them the way we ask them to respect ours,” he added.
In February 2008, Quiboloy was briefly detained at Honolulu airport for a day after federal agents found $350,000 from the private plane that he was on.
-with a report from Arianne Merez, ABS-CBN News