US Church leaders charged with using homeless for 'forced labor'.

Leaders of a California based church have been arrested on charges of imprisoning dozens of mostly homeless people and forcing them on panhandle six days a week for their benefit.

The 12-defendants, including Victor Gonzales, the former pastor of Imperial Valley Ministries - a non denominated church that has about 30 affiliate groups throughout the US and Mexico - were arrested on Tuesday in California and Texas..

They face charges of conspiracy, forced labor, document servitude and benefits fraud.

''The indictment alleges an appalling abuse of power by church officials who preyed on vulnerable homeless people with promise of bed and meals,'' US 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.''

Authorities said the church - whose stated purpose is to ''restore'' drug addicts - lured victims in 2013 with promise of free food, shelter and monetary assistance to eventually return home.

The indictment says that church leaders locked victims inside group homes with deadbolt locks, confiscated their ID papers to prevent them from leaving and stole their welfare benefits. [Agencies]


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