Los Angeles Paralegal Admits Role in Scheme to Fraudulently Obtain Legal U.S. Residency for Members of Philippines-Based Church
LOS ANGELES – A Los Angeles paralegal has agreed to plead guilty to participating in a conspiracy to violate U.S. 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, the Justice Department announced today.
In a plea agreement filed today in United States District Court, Maria De Leon, 73, a resident of the Koreatown neighborhood of Los Angeles and the owner of Liberty Legal Document Services, agreed to plead guilty to participating in a scheme with administrators of the church, which is known as the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, The Name Above Every Name (KOJC).
In addition to pleading guilty, De Leon agreed to cooperate in the government’s case.
De Leon admitted in the plea agreement to participating for about eight years in the conspiracy to commit marriage fraud and visa fraud with the leaders of the KOJC.
“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, according to the plea agreement.
De Leon admitted to submitting fraudulent “Petitions for Alien Relative” and related paperwork on behalf of KOJC members knowing or believing that the marriages were arranged for purposes of securing favorable immigration status for a spouse.
De Leon is one of nine defendants who were charged in November 2021 in a 42-count superseding indictment that alleges a labor trafficking scheme that used fraudulently obtained visas to bring KOJC members to the United States, where they were forced to solicit donations for a bogus charity – the Glendale-based Children’s Joy Foundation (CJF). The indictment alleges that the donations were used to finance church operations and the lavish lifestyles of its leaders.
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. Many of the workers were moved around the United States to solicit donations as CJF “volunteers,” who were also called Full Time Miracle Workers, according to the indictment, which alleges these “workers fundraised for KOJC nearly every day, year-round, working very long hours, and often sleeping in cars overnight.”
The superseding indictment also alleges a sex trafficking scheme that implicates KOJC’s leader, Apollo Carreon Quiboloy, who was referred to as “The Appointed Son of God.”
De Leon is one of six defendants previously arrested in this case. The remaining five defendants who have appeared in federal court in Los Angeles are currently scheduled to be tried on March 21, 2023.
Three of the defendants, including Quiboloy, are fugitives believed to be in the Philippines.
The court is 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 statutory maximum sentence of five years in federal prison.
An indictment contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
As part of the investigation, the FBI is encouraging potential victims or anyone with information about KOJC activities to contact investigators. Those with information are asked to call the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office at (310) 477-6565. Individuals may also contact the FBI through its website at https://www.fbi.gov/tips.
The investigation into KOJC activities is being led by the FBI, which is receiving substantial assistance from Homeland Security Investigations, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service’s Fraud Detection and National Security Unit, the U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service, and IRS Criminal Investigation.
Assistant United States Attorneys Daniel H. Ahn, Jake D. Nare and Benjamin D. Lichtman of the Santa Ana Branch Office, along with Special Assistant United States Attorney Angela C. Makabali of the General Crimes Section, are prosecuting this case. Assistant United States Attorney Katharine Schonbachler of the Asset Forfeiture Section is also working on the matter.