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Pastor In California Jailed For Exploiting Homeless In Fraudulent Scheme

Victor Gonzalez, the head pastor of California-based Imperial Valley Ministries (IVM), and his wife Susan Gonzalez were sentenced to prison time earlier this month after pleading guilty to a charge related to what federal prosecutors described as a church labor trafficking scheme that victimized the homeless.

The scheme involved the couple and other church leaders recruiting homeless individuals, offering them food and shelter in exchange for work at the church, and then withholding their wages. They also falsely told the homeless individuals that they were required to work off their debt for the food and shelter they received.

The San Diego Union-Tribune stated in their article published on January 6, 2023 that Victor Gonzalez received a six-month prison sentence and another six months of house confinement after pleading guilty in a San Diego federal court to conspiracy to commit benefits fraud.

The pastor’s wife, Susan Gonzalez, who also pleaded guilty to the same charge, was given a sentence of time served. Both were among a group of 12 church leaders who were charged in 2019 with offenses including forced labor, conspiracy, document servitude, and benefits fraud, according to Manila Bulletin on September 12, 2019.  They were arrested along with the others on September 10, 2019 in El Centro, San Diego, and Brownsville, Texas.

The charges that could have resulted in 20 years imprisonment for the couple were dropped. All the other defendants have also admitted their guilt, and the majority of them were credited for the time they had already spent in custody.

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