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Leaders of California ministry charged with forced labor

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EL CENTRO, Calif. — A dozen leaders of a California-based ministry have been charged with using homeless people as forced labor, holding them in locked group homes and making them panhandle up to nine hours a day, six days a week.

Leaders of El Centro-based Imperial Valley Ministries were arrested Tuesday in California and Texas.

A federal indictment alleges that the ministry promised dozens of drug addicts and the homeless free room and board to sort out their lives but instead locked them into group homes in Southern California, took their belongings, identification documents and welfare benefits.

The indictment says some were denied medical care, including a diabetic who eventually escaped. Prosecutors say all the alleged victims are now free.

A man who answered the phone at ministry headquarters Tuesday night declined to comment.

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