Quiboloy co-accused to help pin him down
MANILA, Philippines — A co-accused of Apollo Quiboloy, President Rodrigo Duterte’s close friend and spiritual adviser, has agreed to cooperate with US federal authorities in prosecuting him in his sex trafficking case in the United States, according to the US Department of Justice (DOJ).
Maria de Leon, 73, admitted to federal prosecutors that she had been processing fraudulent documents for members of Quiboloy’s religious sect called “Kingdom of Jesus Christ (KOJC), The Name Above Every Name,” the US Attorney’s Office of the DOJ for the Central District of California said in a statement on April 1.
The fake immigration papers allowed the entry into the United States of young women who were allegedly duped into soliciting donations for Quiboloy’s “bogus” foundation and were forced to have sex with him, the DOJ said.
It said that De Leon, a Los Angeles-based paralegal, admitted participation in violating US immigration laws in a plea bargain agreement, which was filed in a US district court on Friday (Saturday in Manila).
It said De Leon, a resident of Koreatown in Los Angeles and the owner of Liberty Legal Document Services, confessed that she had supplied spurious travel documents for KOJC members for about eight years in connivance with the leaders of the Quiboloy-founded sect.
Fake marriages, visas
The fraudulent immigration documents were supposedly used for the fake marriages and visas of the KOJC members to make their stay in the United States valid.
“In addition to pleading guilty, De Leon agreed to cooperate in the government’s case,” the DOJ said without giving details of what she may do to help build or strengthen the case against Quiboloy and others.
The US justice department said the federal court would soon set a hearing for De Leon to formally discuss her guilty plea.
“Once she pleads guilty, De Leon will face a statutory maximum sentence of five years in federal prison,” it said.
Ferdinand Topacio, Quiboloy’s lawyer, said De Leon’s decision to plead guilty will not have any legal effect on the case against his client, pointing out that “any confession only binds the confessor.”
He also clarified that De Leon was not a sect member and that she did not have any connection with KOJC and Quiboloy “officially or personally.”
“Being the act of a third party, (De Leon’s plea deal) cannot affect Pastor Quiboloy or any other coaccused, nor should it negatively affect the cases against them,” Topacio said in a statement.
Quiboloy, an eccentric televangelist who calls himself the “Appointed Son of God,” and eight others were indicted in November 2021 for conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking by force, fraud and coercion, and sex trafficking of children.
A US federal grand jury said girls and young women were coerced to have sex with Quiboloy under pain of “eternal damnation.”
On Jan. 31, the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) issued a wanted poster declaring Quiboloy as one of the most wanted suspected sex traffickers in America.
The FBI said Mr. Duterte’s friend, who will turn 72 on April 25, was wanted by the federal government also for bulk cash smuggling.
In a statement after the wanted poster was published, Quiboloy branded all accusations against him as lies instigated by the “Devil.”
Quoting a Bible verse, he said: “If we talk about persecution and accusations, Satan has hurled everything at me. But was the diamond shaken? Was the gold shaken? No!” he said.
Quiboloy said he never defended himself against the accusations.
“Why? If you’re gold, even if you are thrown into the mud, if you’re a diamond and you are thrown into the mud and sink there, will you turn into mud yourself? No! You remain gold, you remain diamond. You don’t have to prove that you are gold, that you are diamond,” he said.
Quiboloy has no wife and children, according to his loyal followers. What he has are “spiritual wives,” according to former church members who filed a case against him.
The US DOJ said De Leon admitted submitting fraudulent “petitions for alien relative” and related paperwork on behalf of KOJC members “knowing or believing that the marriages were arranged for purposes of securing favorable immigration status for a spouse.”
It said that De Leon knew that the immigration documents were based on “false representations” made by church officials.
She was arrested on Nov. 18, 2021, by federal authorities. Also arrested separately on the same day were Felina Salinas and Bettina Padilla Roces, said to be a top KOJC administrator who took care of the sect’s financial affairs.
Salinas, of Kapolei, Hawaii, was allegedly responsible for collecting and securing passports and other documents for KOJC workers in Hawaii, as well as sending funds solicited in Hawaii to sect officials in the Philippines.
Three of their fellow respondents – Guia Cabactulan, Marissa Duenas, and Amanda Estopare — were arrested in 2020.
According to the US DOJ, Quiboloy and the others were behind a “labor trafficking scheme” that brought KOJC members to the United States to collect donations for the Glendale-based Children’s Joy Foundation (CJF), a fictitious charity that sect leaders used to finance church operations and the “lavish lifestyles of its leaders.”
Around $20 million was sent back to the sect in the Philippines from 2014 to mid-2019, according to US federal agents.
The US DOJ said the members who were successful at soliciting were forced into “sham marriages” or obtained fraudulent student visas to acquire legal status in the United States so they could continue soliciting donations,” US DOJ said.
“Many of the workers were moved around the United States to solicit donations as CJF ‘volunteers,’ who were also called ‘full-time miracle workers,’” it added, citing the indictment documents.
It said the sect members sought donations for KOJC “nearly every day, year-round, working very long hours and often sleeping in cars overnight.”
The FBI is asking those who may have been victimized by KOJC’s trafficking scheme or may have information on its criminal activities in its ongoing investigation.
—WITH REPORTS FROM CATHRINE GONZALES AND INQUIRER RESEARCH
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