LOCAL 8 Investigation
The FBI has launched a criminal investigation into a religious sex cult with close ties to San Diego. Many people who were raised in the group say they were sexually abused as children – all in the name of God. Federal agents are now taking a closer look.
What was it like growing up in the Children of God religious sect? A rare home video of a teen training camp in Mexico from 1986 gives an inside look at the group that currently goes by the name The Family International.
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Self-proclaimed prophet David Berg founded the religious group in the late 60’s as a “revolution for Jesus.”
The group evolved into a free-love Christian sect that advocated open sexuality – even among children. Former member Jim La Mattery left the group in 1975, shortly after Berg started preaching his “Law of Love.”
“They opened the door for their children to have sex with each other, and sex with the adults,” La Mattery said. “Teenagers who didn’t want to go along with that were sent to these Victor camps.”
La Mattery says teenagers were subjected to harsh discipline and abuse at some of the camps.
“Several well-known molesters had been moved from teen camp to teen camp around the world to go and do what they wanted to do,” he said.
La Mattery says one of those men was Phil Slown, a longtime cult member who according to San Diego Juvenile Court records molested La Mattery’s niece.
La Mattery also claims his two daughters were abused and placed in teen camps. Now, La Mattery is telling his story to the FBI.
“My daughters were put there by their mother for over a year,” he said. “They’ve given statements to the FBI.”
A source inside San Diego’s FBI office confirms a criminal investigation is in its early stages. The FBI also says it believes Jim La Mattery is a credible source of information.
“This is a serious investigation,” he said.
La Mattery is also talking to the IRS about two San Diego County charities with close ties to the group Activated Ministries in Escondido, and the Family Care Foundation in Dulzura. Records show both groups are run by longtime members of the sect.
“There is a very committed set of people in the FBI and the IRS who really want to resolve this problem,” La Mattery said.
In response to the FBI probe, Family International spokesperson Claire Borowik wrote in an e-mail to LOCAL 8, “no Family member has been contacted regarding this (FBI) complaint,” and “Any citizen can…file any complaint against anybody. However, that does not substantiate their claims…”
The Family International says it banned all sexual contact with children in 1996, and apologized to the victims. Leaders also say child abuse was not widespread.
Over the past two decades, there have been more than a dozen investigations targeting The Family International,” most of them in other countries. The Family says none of those investigations resulted in criminal convictions.