Pastor Victor Gonzalez received a six-month jail sentence after trafficking homeless people for his financial benefit
Victor Gonzalez, the former head of Imperial Valley Ministries, a non-denominational church in El Centro, California, was sentenced on Friday to six months in jail plus six more months of home confinement. His wife was also given a time-served sentence. Both pleaded guilty to benefits fraud, but the details of their case reveal something far worse. These people used their faith to justify cruelty.
The allegations from 2019 were shocking. A dozen IVM leaders including Gonzalez subjected homeless people to “forced labor, coercing them to surrender welfare benefits and compelling them to panhandle up to nine hours a day, six days a week, for the financial benefit of the church leaders.” They basically trafficked people with nowhere else to go, all to make some cash.
The victims in question believed the church was taking them in and giving them a safe space to stay, so they signed agreements to obey the church’s rules. They soon found out they were trapped inside the buildings, had to give up their identifications (to prevent them from escaping), weren’t allowed to discuss “things of the world” with their fellow inmates, were only allowed to read the Bible, and were subject to “discipline” if they broke any of the rules. (That punishment included possible threats of starvation.)
In addition to the panhandling, the church leaders took benefits the victims received through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to line their own pockets to the tune of over $100,000.
While the other church leaders face their own punishments, the Gonzalezes pleaded guilty to benefits fraud (though the additional counts of forced labor, document servitude, and conspiracy were dropped). They faced up to 20 years in prison for the fraud, so Victor Gonzalez getting sentenced to a mere six months in jail is a relative slap on the wrist. It’s not clear why he received such a light sentence.
Not nearly a long enough sentence.
He received such a light sentence because he is a man of god and the victims are homeless.
Yeah, I think he deserved to serve a minimum of 6 years, not 6 months.