MANILA, Philippines — A Los Angeles paralegal has admitted to participating in an alleged conspiracy with administrators of Apollo Quiboloy’s Kingdom of Jesus Christ (KOJC) to illegally obtain permanent residency and citizenship for its members in the United States, the US’ Department of Justice (DOJ) said.
In a statement dated April 1, the US DOJ said Maria de Leon, 73, has agreed to plead guilty to participating in the scheme by preparing and filing fraudulent documents that sought citizenship for KOJC members who allegedly worked as fundraisers for a bogus charity operated by the church.
The US DOJ said De Leon, in a plea agreement, admitted to participating for about eight years in the conspiracy to commit marriage fraud and visa fraud with the leaders of the KOJC.
“At the time [De Leon] completed the immigration paperwork for certain KOJC members, [she] knew that the immigration paperwork was based upon false representations of the bona fides of the underlying marriages made by church officials,” the US DOJ said, citing the plea agreement.
It added that she “admitted to 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.”
The US DOJ said De Leon is one of the nine defendants who were charged in November 2021 in a 42-count superseding indictment that alleges a labor trafficking scheme that used fraudulently obtained visas to bring KOJC members to the United States.
The agency, citing the indictment, said the church members were then forced to solicit donations for a bogus charity called the Glendale-based Children’s Joy Foundation (CJF).
The indictment also alleges that the donations were used to finance church operations and the “lavish lifestyles” of its leaders.
“Members who proved successful at soliciting for the KOJC were forced to enter into sham marriages or obtain fraudulent student visas to acquire legal status in the United States so they could continue soliciting donations, the indictment alleges,” the US DOJ noted.
“Many of the workers were moved around the United States to solicit donations as CJF ‘volunteers,’ who were also called Full Time Miracle Workers, according to the indictment, which alleges these ‘workers fundraised for KOJC nearly every day, year-round, working very long hours, and often sleeping in cars overnight,’” it added.
The US DOJ said the court is expected to soon schedule a hearing for De Leon to formally enter her guilty plea to the conspiracy count.
Once she pleads guilty, De Leon will face a statutory maximum sentence of five years in federal prison, it added.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation has encouraged potential victims to contact investigators through its Los Angeles Field Office at (310) 477-6565 or its website.
Earlier this year, the FBI came out with a “wanted” poster for Quiboloy, a self-proclaimed “Appointed Son of God,” seeking information leading to his arrest for “conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking by force, fraud and coercion, and sex trafficking of children; sex trafficking by force, fraud and coercion; conspiracy; bulk cash smuggling.”