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

The FBI seal is pictured in this photo from 2018.

Photo by Jose Luis Magana AP

Above: The FBI seal is pictured in this photo from 2018.

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The U.S. Attorney in San Diego has indicted 12 leaders of the Imperial Valley Ministries for allegedly holding dozens of homeless people against their will and forcing them to panhandle.

Aired: September 12, 2019 | Transcript

The U.S. Attorney in San Diego indicted 12 people Tuesday for allegedly holding dozens of homeless people against their will, forcing them to panhandle and to turn over all the money they collected.

The defendants are leaders from the Imperial Valley Ministries, including a former pastor. They were arrested Tuesday in San Diego, El Centro and Brownsville, Texas. They are charged with conspiracy, forced labor and benefits fraud.

U.S. Attorney Robert Brewer said it was the biggest labor trafficking case he has seen in many years. He said the people recruited were vulnerable and mostly homeless and were promised a warm bed and meals.

"Instead, these victims were held captive, stripped of their humble financial means, stripped of their identity, their freedom and their dignity," Brewer said.

He added the indictment accuses the defendants of holding victims in facilities located in El Centro, Calexico and Chula Vista.

"They locked them in group homes," he said. "They forced victims to beg for money, up to nine hours a day, six days a week and turn over all the money they received. They confiscated identification documents ... in order to prevent the victims from escaping. They stole the victims' welfare benefits."

Brewer said all of the defendants have been taken into custody. He said in fiscal year 2018 the Justice Department has convicted a record 526 defendants of human trafficking offenses. That included both labor and sex trafficking cases.

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