Apollo Quiboloy

Quiboloy, associates face maximum penalty of life imprisonment in US

Herbie Gomez

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Quiboloy, associates face maximum penalty of life imprisonment in US

Photo from FBI

Photo from FBI

Four US government agencies are collaborating with the Federal Bureau of Investigation in strengthening the cases against Apollo Quiboloy's group
Quiboloy, associates face maximum penalty of life imprisonment in US

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY, Philippines – At least five US federal prosecutors are working to win a conviction against controversial Davao City-based preacher Apollo Quiboloy and several of his associates who could end up in prison for life if found guilty of sex trafficking.

At least four US government agencies – the Homeland Security Investigations, US Citizenship and Immigration Service’s Fraud Detection and National Security Unit, the US Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service, and IRS Criminal Investigation – were collaborating with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in strengthening the cases against Quiboloy’s group.

Quiboloy, the founder and leader of the Davao-based Kingdom of Jesus Christ (KOJC) church and eight of his associates, were charged with conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking by force, fraud and coercion, sex trafficking of children, marriage fraud, fraud, and misuse of visas, bulk cash smuggling, promotional money laundering, concealment money laundering, and international promotional money laundering.

The sex trafficking conspiracy alone as alleged in the indictment carries a statutory maximum penalty of life imprisonment, based on information released by the US Attorney’s Office in the Central District of California.

The US Attorney’s Office said there were five substantive sex trafficking charges against Quiboloy, et al., each carrying a mandatory minimum penalty of 15 years in federal prison and a potential sentence of life. 

Each of the other charges in the indictment such as additional fraud, cash smuggling, and money laundering offenses carries statutory maximum penalties ranging from five to 20 years of imprisonment.

The other defendants are Teresita Tolibas Dandan, Helen Panilag, Felina Salinas, Guia Cabactulan, Marissa Duenas, Amanda Estopare, Bettina Padilla Roces, and Maria De Leon. At least three of the defendants – Salinas, Roces, and De Leon – were arrested on November 18, 2021, the same day the 42-count superseding indictment was unsealed.

The prosecution panel is composed of assistant US attorneys Daniel H. Ahn, Jake D. Nare, Benjamin D. Lichtman, and Angela C. Makabali, a special assistant from the General Crimes Section. Also helping them is US attorney Katharine Schonbachler of the Asset Forfeiture Section.

Investigation into the Quiboloy group’s activities in the US is ongoing, said FBI spokesperson for Los Angeles Laura Eimiller on Monday, February 7.

“We have arrest warrants for the three fugitives and our investigation is continuing,” Eimiller said.

The FBI published on January 31 the wanted posters of Quiboloy, Dandan, and Panilag, a move criticized by the preacher’s lawyers as “unnecessary.”

The US Attorney’s Office, through its director for media relations Thom Mrozekz, said the FBI has called on potential victims or anyone with information about the group’s activities to get in touch with investigators, particularly in the Bureau’s Los Angeles field office or through its website at https://www.fbi.gov/tips.

Meanwhile, a group of former KOJC members called off an online news conference they scheduled on Tuesday morning, February 8, after being given legal advice in the US.

Arlene Caminong Stone, a former KOJC “pastoral” (personal assistant) and one of the most vocal critics of Quiboloy, said her group called off the online conference that was organized to respond to the preacher’s lawyers “so as not to commit the same mistakes committed by Quiboloy’s group.”

Quiboloy’s lawyers – Ferdinand Topacio, Dinnah Tolentino Fuentes, and Hawaii-based Michael Jay Green – spoke during an online press conference organized by the pastor’s Sonshine Media Network International (SMNI) on Sunday, February 6. 

Fuentes warned of lawsuits against Quiboloy and his church’s critics while Topacio and Green claimed that the unsealing of the indictment in November 2021 and the FBI’s subsequent publication of wanted posters of the preacher and two other defendants were intentionally done close to the Philippine elections. 

Topacio alleged that the FBI’s purpose was to “humiliate and embarrass” Quiboloy, destroy his friend President Rodrigo Duterte, and indirectly undermine the candidacies of running mates ex-senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos and Davao Mayor Sara Duterte, presidential and vice-presidential frontrunners. 

Quiboloy’s lawyers also hinted of a long-drawn-out legal battle starting with the anticipated extradition proceedings.

Eimiller said the FBI has “no comment on the case or statements made by the defense as the prosecution is pending.”

The aborted press conference of former KOJC members on Tuesday would have included lawyer Jade Canada, wife of Nepalese Shishir Bhandari who once served as operations manager of Quiboloy’s Apollo Air.

Bhandari and the Canada family were accused of being behind the superseding indictment and orchestrating a supposed smear campaign against the KOJC leader. Quiboloy’s group also accused the former KOJC members of embezzling KOJC funds. –Rappler.com

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Herbie Gomez

Herbie Salvosa Gomez is coordinator of Rappler’s bureau in Mindanao, where he has practiced journalism for over three decades. He writes a column called “Pastilan,” after a familiar expression in Cagayan de Oro, tackling issues in the Southern Philippines.