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Three Leaders Of Philippines-based Church Charged With Immigration Fraud In LA

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The Kingdom of Jesus Christ Church in Van Nuys. (Richard Vogel/AP)
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Three top leaders of the Philippines-based Kingdom of Jesus Christ church were arrested Wednesday and charged with conspiracy to commit immigration fraud after the FBI raided a Van Nuys church compound and other locations connected to the church.

According to the complaint, former members who left the church told the FBI that they were forced to collect donations for a children’s charity, then were abused when they didn’t make the quotas.

The church is led by Apollo Quiboloy, who has proclaimed himself "Appointed Son of God." The complaint alleges the church has brought workers to the U.S. for decades and forced them to marry church members to keep them in the country as fundraisers. Prosecutors say millions of dollars raised were sent back to the church, and to its founder, in the Philippines.

Massimo Introvigne, a professor of sociology of religion at Columbia University, said he has not heard of similar accusations in the Philippines.

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"The only common accusation in the Philippines is Apollo has a quite lavish lifestyle, compared with the fact that most of the followers are from the poorer classes of the society," Introvigne said.

However, it's not the first time the church has faced allegations of misconduct. The FBI investigated a Kingdom of Jesus Christ church in Hawaii for human trafficking in 2018, and last year, Quiboloy and other church leaders were sued for sexual abuse and forced labor.

Along with the Van Nuys location, FBI agents searched the charity’s office in Glendale and three other Kingdom of Jesus Christ churches in the Los Angeles area, along with locations in Hawaii.

Quiboloy’s church is headquartered in Davao City, and the church leader is a longtime friend of President Rodrigo Duterte, the former Davao City mayor.

The religious sect broke off from the United Pentecostal Church of the Philippines in the 1980s and claims six million followers, four million in the Philippines and the rest abroad.