Crime: Church held homeless people hostage, forced them to beg, feds say - PressFrom - US
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CrimeChurch held homeless people hostage, forced them to beg, feds say

23:45  11 september  2019
23:45  11 september  2019 Source:   usatoday.com

California church leaders charged with forced labor of homeless, US attorney says

California church leaders charged with forced labor of homeless, US attorney says A dozen leaders of a California-based ministry have been indicted by a federal grand jury, accused of forced labor of mostly homeless people, a US attorney said. © CNNImperial Valley Ministries leaders recruited people by promising food and shelter, and instead forced them to beg for money for nine hours a day, six days a week and to give up their welfare benefits "for the financial benefit of the church leaders," prosecutors said in a news release Tuesday that announced the indictment had been unsealed.

Twelve leaders of a California-based church were charged with luring in dozens of mostly homeless people, locking them in group homes and forcing them to panhandle up to nine hours a day, six days a week, federal prosecutors said Tuesday.

Church held homeless people hostage, forced them to beg, feds say© Danielle Bonica For women without safe, affordable housing, the 'spiral' into criminalisation and incarceration can be fast, advocates say.

Twelve defendants, including former pastor of Imperial Valley Ministries Victor Gonzalez, were charged with conspiracy, forced labor, document servitude and benefits fraud, according to an indictment unsealed Tuesday.

The nondenominational church, which has been around since the 1970s, is headquartered in El Centro, California,  and has approximately 30 affiliate churches throughout the USA and Mexico. The programs were meant to "restore" people struggling with drug addiction in faith-based rehabilitation group homes. Participants were enticed with offers of free food, shelter and the resources to eventually return home.

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The alleged criminal activity began in 2013 around the time that Gonzalez became pastor, according to the indictment. Gonzalez allegedly told members that the church needed money and instructed them not to let participants leave.

Prosecutors said church members locked victims inside group homes with deadbolts and kept them hostage by taking their identification documents such as driver's licenses, passports, immigration papers, money and personal items. At some homes, the windows were nailed shut.

“The indictment alleges an appalling abuse of power by church officials who preyed on vulnerable homeless people with promises of a warm bed and meals,” U.S. Attorney Robert Brewer said in a statement. “These victims were held captive, stripped of their humble financial means, their identification, their freedom and their dignity.”

Police: Man with weapon shot by Des Moines officer at homeless camp

Police: Man with weapon shot by Des Moines officer at homeless camp Rescue crews were called to a report of an officer-involved shooting in Des Moines at noon Friday. It happened south of Terrace Hill near a homeless encampment west of the MLK Bridge over the Raccoon River. Des Moines police Sgt. Paul Parizek said officers were following up on a complaint about the homeless camp in that area. Officers found multiple people named in warrants and while dealing with them, they encountered a man in his 30s who wasn't cooperative. Parizek said the man jumped into the river. When he exited the river, he ran to the camp, initially arming himself with a shovel.

Church leaders allegedly stole their food stamp and welfare benefits and coerced them into panhandling, the proceeds from which all going back to the church. In some cases, church officials allegedly told victims that their children would be taken away if they left or that their loved ones had rejected them and only God loved them.

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The indictment alleges church leaders required their victims to follow a strict set of rules, prohibited them from going unaccompanied, reading books other than the Bible or discussing "things of the world." If the rules were broken, the indictment says, there would be "discipline," which allegedly included  withholding of food.

Two people got out: a woman with diabetes who was allegedly refused medicine for her low blood sugar and a 17-year-old who broke a window and called the police from a neighboring property.

Burned body found in Los Angeles encampment after fire attacks on homeless, report say

Burned body found in Los Angeles encampment after fire attacks on homeless, report say Authorities in Los Angeles on Thursday found a burned body stuffed in a shopping cart at a city homeless encampment, a report said. The find comes after several recent fire attacks on the homeless in the city, The Los Angeles Times reported. It was unclear if the person was homeless, but the report said it was recovered at a spot in Van Nuys that is frequented by transients. © FoxNews.com Left Coast News host Ethan Bearman and former Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo react on ‘Fox News @ Night.

Officials said all known victims have been freed. The charges of forced labor, document servitude and violating the Food Stamp Act have a maximum penalty of up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

“This is the most significant labor trafficking prosecution in this district in many years,” Brewer said. “These cases are few and far between because many victims live in captivity and fear, powerless to report the crimes against them. My office wants victims to know that we are here to help you.”

Follow N'dea Yancey-Bragg on Twitter: @NdeaYanceyBragg

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Church held homeless people hostage, forced them to beg, feds say

Trump officials tour unused FAA facility in California in search for place to relocate homeless people.
President Trump has directed aides to launch a major crackdown on homelessness in California, spurring an effort across multiple government agencies to determine how to deal with sprawling tent camps on the streets of Los Angeles and other cities, officials said. require(["medianetNativeAdOnArticle"], function (medianetNativeAdOnArticle) { medianetNativeAdOnArticle.getMedianetNativeAds(true); }); Subscribe to the Post Most newsletter: Today’s most popular stories on The Washington Post Trump is expected to visit California on Tuesday and Wednesday.

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