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Church leaders in California have used homeless people as forced laborers



  A beggar in the Chinatown district of San Francisco

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A beggar in the Chinatown district of San Francisco (FILE)

The leaders of a California-based church were accused of imprisoning homeless people, forcing them to beg all day and take the money.

Dozens of victims were deprived of their papers, their benefits were stolen, and they were punished if they were detained. According to official figures, "things of the world."

Imperial Valley Ministries (IVM) operates about 30 branch churches in the US and Mexico.

A dozen of the leaders of the group were arrested on Tuesday.

Imperial Valley Ministries Pastor Victor Gonzalez was arrested in San Diego.

Eleven others were held in El Centro, California, and in Brownsville, Texas.

The defendants are charged with conspiracy, forced labor, documentary power and fraud.

The church, which called its pastors "missionaries for drug addicts" who lured victims by promising them food and shelter, and ways to "free rein", said federal officials.

"The indictment alleges a horrendous abuse of power by church officials who preyed on vulnerable homeless people with the promise of a warm bed and a hot meal," said Chief Prosecutor, US Attorney Robert Brewer, at a press conference after the arrests.

"These victims were held captive and deprived of their modest financial resources, their identification, their freedom and their dignity."

A statement by the prosecutor's office added that "windows were nailed to some of the group's homes, causing a Desperate 1

7-year-old victim caused to break a window, flee and run to a neighbor our property to call the police. "

Victims were reportedly detained in group homes and forced to live nine hours a day and six days Week to beg.

According to prosecutors, the victims were told, "The only thing to read is the holy bible" and "if any of the rules are violated, there will be discipline".

The penalties included withholding food and claiming that they were told that their children would be taken away is alleged.

Church leaders refused to allow a diabetic with low blood sugar to receive medication, officials said. She managed to escape.

They were also banned from telephoning and they should avoid their family because "only God" loved them now, officials said.

If they managed to escape, Church leaders continued their activities Keep their money back, along with important documents such as immigration papers and food cards.

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Media Signature The homeless have swept into Washington DC.

All victims have been identified and are now free, officials say.

Support services were provided to them.

The case highlights the chronic problem of homelessness in California.

President Donald Trump has reportedly ordered White House officials to initiate an initiative to solve the problem, although California leaders are skeptical.

White House officials toured Los Angeles districts earlier this week blamed "liberal politics" for the high number of destitute people in the city.


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