Federal authorities raid Filipino mega-church as part of massive investigation
HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Federal authorities raided several churches and homes in Hawaii and on the mainland Wednesday connected to controversial Filipino evangelist Apollo Quiboloy as part of a massive human trafficking and immigration fraud investigation.
Three officials with the Kingdom of Jesus Christ Church were arrested and charged in Los Angeles, but Quiboloy was not arrested and is believed to be in the Philippines.
“A federal criminal complaint alleges the church, representatives of the church, were involved in an elaborate immigration scheme," said FBI Special Agent Jason White.
The complaint accused the church of conducting 82 sham marriages to keep members illegally in the U.S. It said members brought from Philippines were forced to solicit donations on the street and sell pastries like Krispy Kreme donuts, claiming they were for the church’s foundation for children.
Federal authorities also said that the church raised more than $20 million during the past five years, with much of it going to finance Quiboloy’s lavish lifestyle.
“They forced these young workers to work incredible hours and if they didn’t perform they were physically assaulted or beaten," said attorney Victor Bakke, who represented a former church member, who is now a government witness.
But attorney Michael Green, who represents church officials, said the investigation is based on testimony from disgruntled former church members who were allowed to stay in the U.S. longer in exchange for their testimony.
[Read more: New cash smuggling allegations raised against Filipino mega-church officials]
“They gave visas to family members, your father, your son. I’m not shocked that out of six million people you wind up with a number who are disgruntled that say bad things," said Green.
Founded in 1985 by Quiboloy, the Kingdom of Jesus Christ Church claims 6 million followers and operates throughout the Philippines, Hawaii and California.
Quiboloy, who claims to be the “appointed son of God,” is a close supporter of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte.
The immigration cases comes as federal authorities are investigating the church and its senior officials for separate criminal activities.
For instance, church official Felina Salinas was indicted in 2018 for trying to smuggle $335,000 in cash out of the U.S. on a plane leased by Quiboloy. Salinas’ trial starts next week.
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