Church leaders arrested for holding homeless captive, pressured labor: Feds

A gaggle of Southern California church leaders had been arrested on Tuesday in a pressured labor case involving homeless individuals who had been allegedly held in opposition to their will and coerced to give up their welfare advantages to the church.

Twelve leaders of Imperial Valley Ministries, based mostly in El Centro, California, had been arrested on fees of conspiracy, pressured labor, doc servitude and advantages fraud, accused of recruiting dozens of homeless individuals for unpaid labor by promising them free meals and shelter, in keeping with a federal indictment.

Imperial Valley Ministries has about 30 non-denominational church buildings throughout the U.S. and Mexico. Its mission is to “restore” drug addicts at faith-based group properties and lift cash to open church buildings in different cities to do the identical, in keeping with the indictment.

The church’s former pastor was among the many 12 arrested.

“The indictment alleges an appalling abuse of energy by church officers who preyed on susceptible homeless individuals with guarantees of a heat mattress and meals,” U.S. Legal professional Robert Brewer mentioned in a press release Tuesday. “These victims had been held captive, stripped of their humble monetary means, their identification, their freedom and their dignity.”

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Imperial Valley Ministries in El Centro, California.
Some victims mentioned they had been pressured to panhandle as many as 54 hours every week for the monetary advantage of church leaders, whereas others reported being held in so-called rehabilitation properties in opposition to their will, prosecutors mentioned.

“The indictment alleges that church leaders locked victims inside group properties with deadbolt locks; confiscated identification paperwork comparable to driver’s licenses, passports, immigration papers and identification playing cards, so as to stop victims from escaping,” prosecutors mentioned in a press release. “Many victims, together with many who didn’t require drug rehabilitation companies, claimed they had been later held at IVM properties in opposition to their will.”

The victims mentioned they had been required to signal agreements and cling to strict guidelines. The settlement included phrases like “you aren’t to debate issues of the world” and “the one factor to be learn is the holy bible” and “if any of the principles are damaged there might be self-discipline.”

Punishments for violations of guidelines allegedly included the withholding of meals.

The alleged rip-off got here to mild when a 17-year-old escaped by breaking a window that had been nailed shut, in keeping with the assertion. The teenager ran to a neighboring property to name the police and be handled for cuts sustained within the escape.

ABC Information’ Alex Stone contributed to this report.

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