California Church Ministry Kidnapped the Homeless and Used them as Slaves, SNAP responds
An investigation by the Washington Post into a Catholic ministry in California has revealed that the group was luring homeless people to their churches with false promises of food and shelter before kidnapping them, stealing their identification, and forcing them to panhandle money for the church. This is an unconscionable and horrific tale that seems like fiction but sadly is not.
We applaud the brave young woman who was able to escape her confinement at one of the Imperial Valley Ministry’s locations and alert the FBI to the situation. Without her, it is likely this sordid tale of kidnapping and slavery would have gone on for much longer. We are also grateful to the hard-working FBI agents who investigated this case and whose work has resulted in this case becoming public. Many people are safer thanks to their hard work.
As this case moves forward, we hope that Attorney General Xavier Becerra will examine whether any state laws have been broken and can be prosecuted. For example, if these victimized minors, men, and women have been handing over any California state supplied welfare benefits to this organization that could be a crime. Similarly, because the story as reported indicates that at least one victim was transported to Texas, we hope state authorities there will also look to see if any state laws were violated and will work with the FBI to bring any other potential cases to light.
Religious organizations often do good work. But some also use religion cover to abuse and manipulate and to cover up crimes. This has been all too common in the Catholic church abuse crisis and is an obvious element of this horrific story as well. It is up to independent and secular law enforcement professionals to eliminate this scourge, and it is up to each of us to be vigilant and report any suspected wrongdoing to local law enforcement.
CONTACT: Dan McNevin, SNAP Board Member ([email protected], 415-341-6417), Joey Piscitelli, SNAP California ([email protected], 925-262-3699) Melanie Sakoda, SNAP Survivor Support Coordinator, ([email protected], 925-708-6175), Esther Hatfield Miller, SNAP Los Angeles (562-673-9442, [email protected]), Zach Hiner, SNAP Executive Director ([email protected], 517-974-9009)
(SNAP, the Survivors Network, has been providing support for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings for 30 years. We have more than 25,000 survivors and supporters in our network. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)