FBI raids church to make big immigration bust

A Philippines-based Church in Van Nuys was raidedby federal agents after a human trafficking investigation that resulted to the arrest of two church leaders. Prosecutors stated that it was a decades-long scheme that tricks followers into becoming fundraisers and arrange sham marriages to keep them in the U.S. 

The local leader of the Kingdom of Christ church was arrested on immigration fraud charges in the morning bust, along with his worker who confiscated the passports of the victims of the scheme. The fundraisers who did manage to escape from the church reported to the FBI that they had been sent across the U.S. to solicit donations for the Church's charity, The Children's Joy Foundation. According to the affidavit, they were beaten if they didn't make daily quotas, forcing some of them to live in cars that were parked at truck stops. 

The FBI agent investigating the case documents 82 sham marriages over a 2 decade period, and tracked $20 million raised between 2014 and mid-2019. This amount was sent to the church in the Philippines.

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The affidavit, written by Special Agent Anne Wetzel, stated "Most of these funds appear to derive from street-level solicitation. Little to no money solicited appears to benefit impoverished or in-need children." 

Federal agents are now conducting searches at other Los Angeles locations and two places in Hawaii linked to the church.

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