MANILA, Philippines — Maria de Leon, a paralegal in Los Angeles, admitted to preparing fraudulent documents for members of Pastor Apollo Quiboloy-led Kingdom of Jesus Christ (KOJC) members seeking permanent residency and citizenship in the United States, its Justice Department said.
In a post on its website, the US DOJ said De Leon agreed to plead guilty to “participating in a scheme with administrators of the church, which is known as the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, The Name Above Every Name.”
It added that De Leon also vowed to cooperate in the government case.
De Leon and eight others, including self-styled pastor Quiboloy are facing a 42-count indictment that alleges running a labor trafficking scheme that forced church members to solicit donations for a bogus children’s charity, while the money funded the “lavish lifestyle” of its church leaders.
The US DOJ said De Leon admitted to participating in the scheme to commit fraud in marriage and visa with leaders of KOJC for about eight years.
The statement quoted the part of the plea agreement: “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.”
She also admitted to filing fake “Petitions for Alien Relative” and other paperwork for KOJC members knowing that the marriages were arranged for securing favorable immigration status for a spouse.
US prosecutors in November 2021 indicted Quiboloy, Teresita Tolibas Dandan and Felina Salinas on sex trafficking charges. They are accused of recruiting females aged 12 to 25 to work as personal assistants or “pastorals” for the religious leader.
The US DOJ said De Leon is one of the defendants earlier arrested in the case, while five others are set for trial on March 21, 2023.
“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.
READ: Case files: Quiboloy’s church workers in LA physically abused, forced into fake marriages
The US DOJ also noted that three other defendants, including church leader Quiboloy, are deemed fugitives and believed to be in the Philippines.
The Philippine DOJ said that if an extradition request will be filed before the Department of Foreign Affairs, they will work on it — although this may take years.
As of March 27, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said he has no personal knowledge on whether the DFA has received communication on the extradition request.
“But the DOJ has not received any endorsement from the DFA regarding the subject extradition as of this date,” he said last weekend.
Quiboloy, who also owns the SMNI Network, has previously endorsed the candidacies of UniTeam bets Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. and Sara Duterte.
Quiboloy’s lawyer Ferdinand Topacio questioned the timing of the FBI’s release of a “most wanted” poster on the religious leader, but Heather Fabrikant, spokesperson for the US embassy was quoted in a STAR report as saying: “The FBI’s release of a wanted poster for Quiboloy follows multiyear efforts by law enforcement… It is not related to the Philippines’ presidential election campaign.” — Kristine Joy Patag with reports from The STAR