(USA TODAY) -- Twelve leaders of a California-based church were charged with luring in dozens of mostly homeless people, locking them in group homes and forcing them to panhandle up to nine hours a day, six days a week, federal prosecutors said Tuesday.
Twelve defendants, including former pastor of Imperial Valley Ministries Victor Gonzalez, were charged with conspiracy, forced labor, document servitude and benefits fraud, according to an indictment unsealed Tuesday.
The nondenominational church, which has been around since the 1970s, is headquartered in El Centro, California, and has approximately 30 affiliate churches throughout the USA and Mexico. The programs were meant to "restore" people struggling with drug addiction in faith-based rehabilitation group homes. Participants were enticed with offers of free food, shelter and the resources to eventually return home.
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