LOS ANGELES/MANILA – Los Angeles-based Filipino American paralegal Maria de Leon, a co-accused of Pastor Apollo Quiboloy in several complaints in the United States, has agreed to plead guilty to participating in a scheme with administrators of the controversial Kingdom of Jesus Christ church (KOJC).
The Department of Justice in California said de Leon, in a plea agreement, admitted to “preparing and filing fraudulent documents” that would grant US residency and citizenship to members of the Quiboloy-founded KOJC.
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 is among nine people, including Quiboloy, who was charged in November 2021 in a labor-trafficking scheme that used fake visas to bring church members to the US where they were forced to donate to a bogus charity called Children’s Joy Foundation (CJF), based in Glendale, California.
De Leon is one of the six defendants who have been arrested and five others who appeared in a federal court in Los Angeles.
Quiboloy, a friend of President Rodrigo Duterte, was accused of coercing women and young girls to have sex with him.
The women and girls were supposedly required to prepare Quiboloy’s meals, clean his residences, give him massages, and have sex with him during what was called “night duty”.
In February, the Davao-based pastor was placed under the US Federal Bureau of Investigation’s “most wanted” list.
Malacanang has distanced from the Quiboloy case, saying he is a private individual who can defend himself in court.
Acting presidential spokesperson Martin Andanar made the remark after the United States Department of Justice (US DOJ) announced that a co-accused of Quiboloy has agreed to cooperate with US federal authorities in prosecuting him in his cases in the US.
“We reiterate that Pastor Apollo Quiboloy of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ is a private individual. As such, he can defend himself in court in light of Maria de Leon’s recent action,” Andanar said in a press statement.
Malacañang has repeatedly kept its distance from Quiboloy’s cases in the US.
In November, Malacañang said President Rodrigo Duterte will execute the laws accordingly amid issues hounding his spiritual adviser.
Quiboloy, a televangelist who calls himself the “Appointed Son of God,” is Duterte’s spiritual adviser
According to the US Attorney’s Office in the Central District of California, De Leon agreed to plead “guilty to participating in a conspiracy to violate US immigration laws by preparing and filing fraudulent documents that sought legal permanent residency and citizenship for members of a Philippines-based church who allegedly worked as fundraisers for a bogus charity operated by the church.”
“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,” the statement added.
De Leon agreed to cooperate with the US government in the case.
Kingdom of Jesus Christ lawyer Michael Green said De Leon was not a church member, adding that the church was not threatened by the paralegal’s cooperation with US authorities.
“This woman is not a member, she’s not a mean person she got sucked into the indictment, but she knows less than anybody in the case and she apparently knows less than the US attorney’s office. Like I said the US attorney’s office never indicted the children’s charity foundation,” Green said.
The US DOJ said the alleged donations were used to finance church operations and the “lavish lifestyles of its leaders.”
It said members who “proved successful at soliciting for the KOJC were forced to enter into sham marriages or obtain fraudulent student visas to acquire legal status in the United States so they could continue soliciting donations, the indictment alleges.”
According to the US DOJ, many of the workers were “moved around the United States to solicit donations as CJF ‘volunteers,’ who were also called Full Time Miracle Workers.”
Quiboloy, de Leon, and seven others were indicted in November 2021 for conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking by force, fraud and coercion, and sex trafficking of children.
The US DOJ believes that Quiboloy, who remains at large, is still in the Philippines