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Church Funds Frozen : Minister Told to Stop Taking Fees From Immigrants

Times Staff Writer

A judge froze the bank accounts Friday of a Glendale church whose leader has been accused of victimizing Armenian and Lebanese immigrants by posing as an immigration consultant and promising to secure them green cards in exchange for donations to his storefront operation.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Eli Chernow issued a permanent injunction that bars Elie Khoury, director of the Kingdom and World Mission of Our Lord Jesus Christ, from providing immigration consulting services for fees. The decision extends a Sept. 26 temporary restraining order that the judge had issued against Khoury, a Lebanese immigrant.

It is illegal to charge for immigration consulting services unless authorized by the Immigration and Naturalization Service to do so.

A civil suit filed against Khoury by the state attorney general’s office charged that he collected up to $2,000 apiece from immigrants to argue their cases for political and religious asylum in INS proceedings.

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Khoury, a self-styled minister, tells his clients that he is authorized to represent them before the INS, but has in fact been denied such authority at least four times, Deputy Atty. Gen. Jerry Smilowitz said.

Deportation Threatened

According to Smilowitz, Khoury has been posing as an immigration consultant for at least five years, charging for services that he was unable to provide and then threatening dissatisfied clients with deportation if they contacted authorities.

Smilowitz said that Khoury has been successfully sued seven times in small claims court, but that he has refused to pay the judgments.

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The injunction will remain in place and the assets of the church will remain frozen until the case goes to trial. The government is seeking civil penalties and restitution for an undetermined number of victims, Smilowitz said.

The Los Angeles district attorney’s office is also investigating the case and may file criminal charges against Khoury, a spokesman said.

In court Friday, Khoury, who appeared in clerical garb, argued his case himself. He said he was authorized by the INS to represent clients to the Board of Immigration Appeals. He said that he does not charge for immigration assistance, but that his clients voluntarily make donations to his church. The church, he said, feeds 2,000 people each month.


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