US judge orders detention for arrested Quiboloy church members

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 31 2020 09:35 AM

SANTA ANA, California - A US judge has ordered the detention of 2 leaders of Pastor Apollo Quiboloy's Kingdom of Jesus Christ who are facing charges for alleged conspiracy to commit immigration fraud. 

US Magistrate Judge Autumn D Spaeth ordered the detention of Guia Cabactulan and Marissa Duenas upon the request of government prosecutors who said they pose a flight risk. 

Cabactulan, 59, was earlier described as a "top official" of Quiboloy's church who had direct communications with its Philippines' leadership; while Duenas, 41, allegedly handled immigration documents and kept passports of victims of an alleged human trafficking ring. 

The two were arrested in a raid at the Van Nuys, California compound of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ church. 

A third church administrator, Amanda Estopare, 48, who handled "financial aspects" and fundraising of the church, was also arrested 
 in Virginia.

Lawyers for Cabactulan and Duenas unsuccessfully argued that health issues and lack of criminal records would prevent them from fleeing. 

Federal prosecutors said the three leaders — Cabactulan, Duenas, and Estopare — brought church members to the United States under false pretenses, often telling them that they were invited to be special guests at a concert supporting the church’s ministry.

But once the church members arrived in the United States, their passports were immediately taken away by the three church administrators, who then forced them to collect donations for the Children’s Joy Foundation, a nonprofit run by the church that claims to help impoverished children in the Philippines, according to a criminal complaint.

The church raised about $20 million from 2014 through mid-2019, but most of the money went back into the church’s coffers and to pay for luxury goods for church leaders that included a Bentley, a bulletproof Cadillac Escalade, an Armani suit and real estate, the complaint said. The church also owns a mansion in Calabasas, California.

The workers received little to no pay and were required to meet steep fundraising quotas. Top performers, known as “assets,” were then forced into sham marriages with other church members, or made to obtain student visas so they could stay in the country, prosecutors said. Investigators said church leaders had arranged 82 such marriages in the past 20 years.

Those who failed to meet quotas faced punishments that included paddling or being forced to spend three to five days in isolation in a walled section of the compound while being denied food and listening to prerecorded sermons by church leaders, according to the complaint.

One victim told investigators that church leaders “shaved her head and made her wear an orange shirt with ‘SOS’ on the back, which stood for ‘Son of Satan,’ ” Anne M. Wetzel, the FBI special agent in charge of the investigation, wrote in the criminal complaint.

The investigation was continuing, and the authorities were focusing on other people associated with the church, a spokesman for federal prosecutors in California said.

All three church leaders who were arrested were charged with conspiracy to commit immigration fraud, which carries a penalty of up to five years in prison, federal prosecutors said.

Estopare was arrested in Virginia, where she briefly appeared in federal court in Norfolk on Wednesday. She was appointed a public defender, Suzanne Katchmar, who declined to comment. Estopare remains in custody and is due back in court Monday

Church email accounts for Duenas and Estopare, who the Justice Department said are U.S. citizens, were deactivated.

Cabactulan is a Philippine national and lawful permanent resident of the United States, according to the Justice Department.

CONSPIRACY TO SHAME QUIBOLOY
 
A lawyer of Pastor Quiboloy earlier said the arrest of the 3 church members in the United States is part of a "grand conspiracy" meant to shame the church leader.

Former members of the religious group who allegedly have an "ax to grind" with Quiboloy have supposedly conspired to file a complaint against the Davao-based religious leader, his lawyer Israelito Torreon said.

"They are into this grand conspiracy in order to put into shame Pastor Apollo Quiboloy and the Kingdom of Jesus Christ," Torreon said in a press briefing.

"We will face these charges and we await our day in court. And we will show to the world that Pastor Apollo Quiboloy is innocent of these charges," he added.

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 reports from Steve Angeles, ABS-CBN North America News Bureau, and The New York Times