BRAZIL — Substitute Labor Judge Ricardo Koga De Oliveira acquitted all 4 defendants charged in the Word of Faith Fellowship (WoFF)-related Brazilian churches of slave labor and human trafficking on July 27, 2018. The Public Ministry of Labor had filed a civil public action against the ministry, its schools, and its pastors. The defendants were:
- Rhema Evangelical Community Ministry,
- Rhema Christian School-Elementary, Junior High and High School,
- Juarez de Souza Oliveira, and
- Solange da Silva Granieri Oliveira.
Word of Faith Fellowship in Spindale, N.C., USA’s organization was implicated in a report by the Associated Press in July 2017 alleging church pastor Jane Whaley and other WoFF leaders operated a human pipeline trafficking Brazilians to North Carolina. Those who visited the “mother church” allegedly were forced to work long hours for businesses owned and operated by church members for little or no pay.
“It is ludicrous that people now claim they were in an abusive environment at our church but admit that they traveled from Brazil to the United States many different times, returning repeatedly to their place of alleged enslavement,” Word of Faith Fellowship leadership stated last year. The Brazilian judge agreed stating:
In the present case, there is nothing to indicate the existence of work under analogous conditions to the conditions of slavery, none of its characteristics being present. On the contrary, witnesses brought by the Labor Ministry, revealing a typical ego-centrism of youth and an alienation of the conditions of life in the country, enjoyed wide freedom, in addition to economic and social conditions well above the national average.
Simply put, the judge after hearing the testimonies of the present witnesses, allegations of incompetence by the Labor Ministry, and the prior actions of the witnesses found:
- one witness showed the desire to work soon after completing school, traveled to the USA 3 times as an adult, stayed with the same family in the same residence, and took sightseeing junkets during her visit.
- another witness stated he worked without pay, but was allowed to attend college because he had a scholarship. He made at least 3 trips to the USA.
- one young woman described doing volunteer work in the form of remodeling and further testified that she had not seen slave labor or physical attacks. It was also noted that on at least two occasions things were written in the transcript that the affiant had not spoken. In this testimony many references were made to the Associated Press interviews, photos and influence.
The judge noted that the Associated Press spoke of the indemnification and that in the sight of the Labor Ministry, each victim could receive compensation. In the Forum Paper the value of the cause was R$500,000 in damages. Another account spoke of armed people who came in the church and their presence frightened the children.
Another witness said she was not forced to go to the USA and to her knowledge, no one was ever forced to travel. Neither was her passport or money confiscated by the church.
The judgement stated that the defendant’s witnesses completely removed the allegation of similar conditions to slavery work, forced labor of minors or other accusations contained in the initial petition. He dismissed as unfounded the pleadings in question.
In the conclusion, the judge wrote:
Considering all that was exposed, I ACCEPT the motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction of the Labor court regarding the request to “dissolve the 1st and 2nd defendants for deviation of purpose,” rejecting all other motions and moreover, I dismiss as UNFOUNDED THE PUBLIC CIVIL MOTION proposed by the PUBLIC MINISTRY OF LABOR against the Evangelical Ministry Community Rhema, Rhema Christian School, Juarez de Souza Oliveira and Solange da Silva Granieri Oliveira, acquitting the defendants of all charges.