FBI raids Los Angeles church in human trafficking investigation

FBI raids Los Angeles church in human trafficking investigation
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A Los Angeles church was raided Wednesday by the FBI as part of a human trafficking investigation that led to the arrest of two church officials.

Federal agents said that the Kingdom of Jesus Christ church — which is based in the Philippines — was the center of a decades-long scheme that hoodwinked followers into becoming fundraisers and setting up sham marriages to keep them in America, The Associated Press reports.

Among the two arrests was the local leader of the church over immigration fraud charges, as well as an employee who took away the passports of victims of the scheme, the AP reported, citing the U.S. attorney’s office.

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The people who were able to escape from the church told authorities that they had been tasked with traveling across states to solicit donations for the church's charity, The Children’s Joy Foundation.

According to the wire service, they were beaten if they failed to meet daily quotas. 

One FBI agent told the AP that 82 sham marriages had been documented over 20 years. From 2014 until the middle of 2019, the scheme sent $20 million back to the church's base in the Philippines.

“Most of these funds appear to derive from street-level solicitation,” FBI Special Agent Anne Wetzel told the AP. “Little to no money solicited appears to benefit impoverished or in-need children.”