Saturday, May 16, 2020

DOJ: Two Former Church Members Admit Forced Labor Conspiracy - Just Doing The Work Of The Lord With CPS

Oh, those wild and crazy christians!

They were just doing the work of the lord, you know, that salvific mission of salvaging the souls of the savages through human asset forfeiture of their last worldly good of that string, being unraveled from the social safety net.

I bet they have life insurance policies on these people.

See, if these christians would have done what they do in Child Welfare, they would never have been busted because all they had to do was file up as a GAL and transfer Parental Rights to their corporate entity.

They do the same thing in Foster Care and other Social Impact Bond programs for children of "The Poors" (always said with clinched teeth), but they typically bill Medicaid.

Slavery was never abolished in the U.S,

Always remember, every corporation should hire a child!

Feds arrest California church leaders for using homeless people as ...
Jose Gaytan and Sonia Murillo
SAN DIEGO – Jose Gaytan and Sonia Murillo, defendants affiliated with Imperial Valley Ministries, pleaded guilty to labor trafficking charges in federal court today, admitting that they participated in a forced labor conspiracy.

Gaytan and Murillo were previously indicted with ten other defendants on charges they held program participants against their will, coerced participants to surrender welfare benefits, and compelled participants to panhandle for the financial benefit of the church leaders.
Both Gaytan and Murillo admitted to conspiring with the other defendants to benefit financially from the forced labor conspiracy. In particular, both Gaytan and Murillo admitted defendant Victor Gonzalez, the former pastor of IVM, instructed all directors in charge of IVM properties to screw or nail windows shut and keep doors locked from the inside in order to prevent IVM participants from leaving. Gaytan added that Gonzalez and another IVM leader told him it was necessary to continue recruiting participants into IVM and prevent participants from leaving in order to increase fundraising proceeds for the benefit of IVM.
Murillo implicated additional defendants who punished her for allowing IVM participants to leave. Both Gaytan and Murillo added that various co-defendants had directed them to falsely instruct female participants that Child Protective Services would take their children, or fail to return them, if they left IVM.

IVM operated a non-denominational church headquartered in El Centro, and had opened approximately 30 affiliate churches throughout the United States and Mexico, including Los Angeles, Santa Ana and San Jose, California; Las Vegas, Nevada; Phoenix, Arizona; and Brownsville, Texas. IVM’s express purpose is to “restore” drug addicts at faith-based rehabilitation group homes and raise money to open churches in other cities to do the same.
In addition to their church and main office, IVM owns and operates two women’s group homes and a men’s group home in the El Centro area. IVM also operated homes in Calexico and Chula Vista. Many participants were recruited from outside of El Centro, including San Diego, and as far away as Texas. IVM members allegedly induced participants to accompany them to receive free food and shelter with the false promise that they would be provided resources to return home. Many participants, including those who did not require rehabilitation services, claimed they were later held at IVM properties against their will.
The indictment alleges that all of the defendants confiscated identification documents in order to prevent IVM participants from leaving IVM and to maintain their labor. IVM leaders checked in participants at the IVM group homes, where they were required to sign agreements to adhere to rules, including never leaving the house unaccompanied, and turning over all identifications and personal items.
Both Gaytan and Murillo admitted they helped enforce the IVM rules by checking in new IVM participants, obtaining and using their Electronic Benefits Transaction cards obtained through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and requiring participants to panhandle on behalf of IVM. Gaytan and Murillo also pleaded guilty to a separate offense of Benefits Fraud based upon their unauthorized acquisition of SNAP benefits from others, in violation of Food Stamp Regulations.
Gaytan entered his guilty plea before U.S. Magistrate Judge Linda Lopez and Murillo entered her guilty plea before U.S. Magistrate Judge F.A. Gossett. Both are scheduled to be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Barry Ted Moskowitz on May 5, 2020.
“The most vulnerable among us are entitled to the protection of the law,” said U.S. Attorney Robert Brewer. “We encourage everyone to help identify forced labor victims in all locations or situations where exploitation is possible.” Mr. Brewer added that his office would be hosting a forum on forced labor on April 23, 2020, to bring together law enforcement agencies, non-governmental organizations, and community organizations that may encounter potential victims of forced labor, all in an effort to increase the identification of victims and prosecute those who exploit them.
Brewer praised FBI agents and prosecutor Chris Tenorio for excellent work on this important case.
DEFENDANTS                                            Case Number 19CR3255-BTM                                     
Jose Gaytan                                                    Age: 47                                   El Centro, CA
Sonia Murillo                                                  Age: 51                                   El Centro, CA
Conspiracy to Commit Forced Labor and Benefits Fraud – Title 18, U.S.C., Section 371
Maximum penalty: five years’ imprisonment and $250,000 fine
Food Stamp Act (Benefits Fraud) – Title 7, U.S.C., Section 2024(b)
Maximum penalty: 20 years’ imprisonment and $250,000 fine (If the benefits were $5,000 or more)
Federal Bureau of Investigation
*The charges and allegations contained in an indictment or complaint are merely accusations, and the defendants are considered innocent unless and until proven guilty.
*This case is the result of the ongoing efforts of the Violent Crime and Human Trafficking (VCHT) Section. Formed in 2019, by U.S. Attorney Robert Brewer, the VCHT is tasked with leading collaborations between federal and local law enforcement in the investigation and prosecution of cases involving violent crimes, firearms and gang cases; sex trafficking and child exploitation; civil rights, and labor trafficking. The VCHT Section oversees the Southern District of California Coordinators for Project Safe Neighborhoods, Human Trafficking, and Project Safe Childhood. The VCHT Section also provides federal prosecutors to the downtown San Diego Violent Crimes Task Force-Gang Group, the North County Gang Task Force, and the East County Gang Task Force.

Imperial Valley Ministries Had a Growing Empire Before Forced Labor Charges

A Southern California ministry whose leaders are charged with using deadbolt locks to detain homeless residents and making them turn over panhandling money was no fly-by-night operation. Imperial Valley Ministries was known in the remote desert region for decades of work helping drug addicts turn their lives around.

The ministry operated a ranch for men, a group home for women and a small headquarters office on one of the busiest streets in El Centro, a city of 45,000 people in a region of scorching summers, high unemployment and bountiful winter harvests that supply supermarkets across the United States. Residents were seen at intersections in burgundy T-shirts with the ministry's name emblazoned in white letters, asking idled motorists for money in exchange for a flyer about the ministry's work and a choice of peanuts or candy.

Church Leaders Indicted For Alleged Labor Trafficking In San Diego, Other Cities

It became so successful that it established a network of about 30 affiliate churches across the country in cities as far-flung as Charlotte, North Carolina, and Las Vegas.

A list of 29 house rules cited in an indictment unsealed Tuesday describes how the ministry kept a tight hold on residents in a cult-like atmosphere. They were prohibited from discussing "things of the world" and reading anything but the Bible, forced to surrender all identification and personal belongings, avoid family contact for the first 30 days and relinquish all earnings.

"You can't leave the house unless accompanied by someone and with the permission from the director -- never by yourself," the rules sheet read. "You can't go to the front yard, unless told so by the counselor."

Victor Gonzalez, the ministry's 40-year-old former pastor of Brownsville, Texas, his 39-year-old wife, Susan Christine Leyva, and 10 others have pleaded not guilty to crimes, including forced labor and benefits fraud. The defendants allegedly confiscated magnetic-striped cards that are used for the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps.

Gonzalez, his wife and nine others appeared Wednesday at federal court in Brownsville and El Centro. Five defendants in El Centro were found to be in the country illegally and denied bond because they were considered flight risks. No one responded to phone and email messages left Wednesday with the ministry, and it was unclear if the defendants had attorneys.

For all the horrors outlined in a 29-page indictment, the ministry drew little public suspicion until the FBI raided its properties in May 2018.

"We certainly encountered a lot of people who were very appreciative of going cold turkey and getting off of drugs," Christopher Tenorio, an assistant U.S. attorney based in San Diego, said Wednesday.

The ministry was founded in the 1970s and opened its first group home in 1992. Tenorio said the founders, who were not named in the indictment and are now elderly, turned over the reins to Gonzalez, a resident, in 2013, which is when abuses began to escalate.

Windows were nailed shut at some group home locations, leading a 17-year-old victim to break a window, escape, and run to a neighboring property to call police, authorities say. Ministry members allegedly told people that they would not receive transportation home, that loved ones had rejected them and they must stay because only God loved them. Punishments included withholding food.

Residents panhandled up to 54 hours a week to provide money to the church, according to the indictment. Some were refused medical treatment.

The ministry expanded to about 30 cities through affiliates allied with the Christian Restoration Movement, none of whom have been charged. Locations included Los Angeles; San Jose, California; Phoenix; Oklahoma City; St. Louis; Louisville, Kentucky; and Memphis, Tennessee.

The ministry sent someone from Imperial Valley to establish the affiliates, who were required to send back 10% of their tithes, Tenorio said. Some affiliates broke ties after the FBI raids.

The ministry allegedly recruited homeless people from the streets from far-flung cities, offering help and driving them in white vans to El Centro. It operated a home in Chula Vista, a San Diego suburb, for people to stay temporarily.

Spread the Love Charity, which provides day shelter, counseling and other services to homeless people, noticed about two years ago that former residents of Imperial Valley Ministries were showing up, saying they wanted to go home but had no money, said Jessica Solorio, its founder. She called the ministry but no one responded to her messages until the FBI raid, after which time Gonzalez came to her office and reimbursed her for dozens of bus tickets.

"I never knew of anything bad," said Solorio, who opened her charity in 2015. "They tried to help people off the streets. They had a ranch with animals to keep them busy. There was never anything from the outside looking in that looked horrible."

The FBI asked Solorio to let them know when people came from the ministry. Agents interviewed former residents, leading to the raid.

At the time, Gonzalez publicly pinned the raid on a woman who, he said, claimed in 2016 that her daughter was being held against her will.

"We tried to help her out as much as we could," Gonzalez said, as reported by KYMA-TV of Yuma, Arizona. "We tried to help her out even to bring her son, and the mom was always in denial."

The ministry drew mixed reviews online. One woman who called it "a cult" said she was grateful that her daughter turned sober during a seven-month stay but that the ministry pitted her child against her family and forced residents to stay on the streets peddling candy until they met a quota.
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