MANILA, Philippines – Los Angeles-based paralegal Maria de Leon admitted to conspiring with embattled preacher Apollo Quiboloy’s subordinates to smuggle church workers into the United States including via sham marriages, the US Department of Justice (US DOJ) said in a statement on Friday, April 1.
De Leon agreed to plead guilty with the US District Attorney’s Office for her role in preparing and filing fraudulent documents that sought legal permanent residency and citizenship for members of Quiboloy’s Kingdom of Jesus Christ, The Name Above Every Name (KOJC). The members allegedly worked to raise funds for a “bogus charity” operated by KOJC, the US DOJ said.
De Leon, 73-year-old owner of Liberty Legal Document Services, admitted that she participated in the conspiracy to commit marriage and visa fraud with leaders of the KOJC for about eight years.
She agreed to cooperate in the US government’s case.
According to 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.
De Leon admitted to submitting fraudulent “Petitions for Alien Relative” and related paperwork on behalf of KOJC members, fully aware that these marriages were arranged for the purpose of securing an approval for a spouse to immigrate to the US.
The paralegal was one of the defendants charged in November 2021 along with Quiboloy for a labor trafficking scheme that used fraudulently obtained visas to bring KOJC members to the US. Once in America, they were “forced” to solicit donations for a bogus charity called the Children’s Joy Foundation (CJF), based in Glendale, California.
The indictment alleged the donations were used to finance church operations and the lavish lifestyles of its leaders.
The indictment alleged members who “proved successful” at soliciting for the church were forced into sham marriages to obtain legal status in the US to continue soliciting.
The church workers were moved around the US to solicit donations for the CJF, and were called “Full Time Miracle Workers.” They “fundraised for the KOJC nearly every day, year-round, working very long hours, and often sleeping in cars overnight,” the indictment alleged.
Apart from labor trafficking, the same November 2021 indictment charged Quiboloy, De Leon, and seven others over an alleged sex trafficking scheme that coerced girls and young women to have sex with Quiboloy, the “Appointed Son of God,” under threats of “eternal damnation.”
Of the nine defendants in the case, six were arrested, including De Leon. The other five arrested, who have appeared in federal court in Los Angeles, are scheduled to be tried on March 21, 2023.
The remaining three defendants, including Quiboloy, are fugitives the US DOJ believes are in the Philippines.
US prosecutors are 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 maximum sentence of five years in federal prison, the US DOJ said.
Meanwhile, the Philippine Department of Justice said on March 26 that it has yet to receive an endorsement from the Department of Foreign Affairs on Quiboloy’s possible extradition to the US.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation encourages potential victims or anyone with information about KOJC activities to contact investigators. Individuals may contact the FBI via its website.
Read De Leon’s full plea agreement here:
– Michelle Abad/Rappler.com