A dozen leaders of a California church were arrested Tuesday after being accused of using homeless people for forced labor. Leaders of Imperial Valley Ministries, based in El Paso, are alleged to have lured dozens of victims to group homes with the promise of food and shelter before confiscating their personal belongings and ID documents, stealing their food stamp and welfare benefits, and threatening to take away their children. NBC News reports that a grand jury indictment unsealed Tuesday also accuses the leaders of locking the victims group homes and forcing them to panhandle up to 54 hours a week. “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 at a news conference. The former pastor of the ministry, Victor Gonzalez, and 11 others were arrested in San Diego, El Centro.
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