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Ex-Pastor and Ministry Leaders ‘Guilty’ of Abusing Homeless in Labor Trafficking Scheme

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The former pastor of an Imperial County church that federal prosecutors say forced homeless people to surrender their welfare benefits and panhandle pleaded guilty this week to conspiracy to commit benefits fraud.

Victor Gonzalez, who headed Imperial Valley Ministries, pleaded guilty in San Diego federal court on Monday along with three co-defendants to taking part in a labor trafficking scheme to recruit homeless people in San Diego and other cities, then force them to participate in raising money on behalf of the El Centro-based church.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office said the church operated around 30 affiliate churches in the United States and Mexico. Its mission statement indicated its goal was “to restore drug addicts and their families.”

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