FAMILIES AGAINST CULT TEACHINGS
THE VICTORY OUTREACH EXPOSE
VICTORY OUTREACH CHURCH
LOCATED IN SANTA ROSA, CA
Please note: Our intention at FACT is never to libel or damage anyone’s reputation. The purpose of our work is primarily to educate the public, but also for Victory Outreach leadership to understand the severity of the allegations against them. Moreover, please know that all statements made in this expose are according to our opinion at FACT based upon signed affidavits, complaints and evidence we received from alleged victims of Victory Outreach and witnesses, and through our analysis of this information according to the B.I.T.E. model (developed by cult expert Steven Hassan).
EXPLOITATION AND ABUSE CLAIMS
Concerned family members and friends of those involved with the rehabilitation home of Victory Outreach Church contacted our office with serious allegations against the church and head Pastor Jose Guadarrama. Shortly thereafter, an ex-member of the church’s rehab home also sent in an affidavit recounting his traumatic experiences (which led him to attempt suicide by ingesting 60 pills and require hospitalization).
As per our understanding based upon the complaints, the court system in Santa Rosa, CA (and perhaps surrounding areas) are assigning people in need of substance abuse rehabilitation to Victory Outreach’s rehab home. According to the allegations, these highly vulnerable and susceptible individuals are being manipulated and exploited for labor for the benefit the church and leadership. Allegedly, church members work full-time hours seven days a week, including positions involving hard manual labor. Furthermore, the complaints state that those receiving rehabilitation all live at the church in subpar conditions and with members regularly being deprived of sleep.
Fraud regarding donation solicitation with intent to deceive was also mentioned in the complaints, in addition to welfare fraud. Allegedly Pastor Guadarrama makes all individuals in his rehab program sign up for food stamps and general assistance, and then confiscates the stamps to use however he sees fit. (The Welfare Fraud Department of California investigated these claims and found them to be inconclusive.)
To our knowledge according to the allegations, three rehabilitation church members have already received treatment at hospitals as a result of their experiences at this church, and family members worry that their loved ones have developed psychological issues such as negative changes in personality, warped sense of reality, depression and more, as stated below.
Those who filed complaints with our office had this to say about Victory Outreach Church in Santa Rosa, CA:
“Over the past year or so I have witnessed how pastor Jose use [church member name removed] in the [rehab] home with long work hours, and using extreme teachings with harmful activities and destructive techniques of brainwashing, coercive, persuasion, manipulation to break down [name removed] sense of self, making him very vulnerable.”
“…I witnessed how pastor Jose controls [name removed] every minute of his waking time. [Member] is not free to work, think, or analyze, he is told what to do, where to go, whom, when, how, what, etc. Pastor Jose has totally taken away his freedom and all forms of decision making…I noticed [his] personality is changing for the worst. Pastor Jose makes him do and say things he doesn’t want say for his own benefit. I asked Pastor Jose what he was trying to do with [name removed], that he was destroying his life, and producing intense confusion, loss of perspective and a distorted sense of reality.”
“He [church member] works long hours with no pay. He is always tired. He has no privacy, no time to reflect, he is deprived of food and sleep. I have noticed personality changes for the worst. He has become distant from family and friends. He is flat; He lost all interest in all his goals. He has no voice. At times he looks scared, frighten, and confused. I just don’t understand these extreme personality changes.”
“Victory Outreach rehab is a fraud. The men in this rehab are being exploited, controlled, and deprived of food and sleep. And when they do have food, it is not adequate nutrition.”
“All they [church members] do has to be approved by Pastor Jose… They are not allowed to speak to anybody outside the church. This Victory Outreach is not a church; it is a place where they are exploiting/controlling these men, in order to make money for the company. They deprive them from food, sleep, and also control every aspect of there lives.”
“All the men get paid by the hour. Each gets paid for the work they do. All the money earn goes to Pastor Jose at Victory Outreach. I witnessed how hard these men work, and the lunches they bring to work was not enough for all the hard work they do. All the men that come to work from Victory Outreach go to work without eating. And the lunch they bring to work is a sandwich made by just bread and mayonnaise, that’s it. And sometimes just bread, mayonnaise, and mustard. Or bread with mayonnaise and cheese, with water, and that’s it. The lunch they bring to work is terrible, and not enough for all the hard work they do.”
“…I have witnessed pastor Jose Guadarrama, time after time lying, manipulating, and controlling [member] at everything he does. Pastor Jose moves in and takes control for his own advantage.”
“I started Googling controlling pastors and it showed cults, spiritual abusing churches. And what I was reading shocked me. I thought to myself this is exactly what is going on with this church…”
Perhaps the most telling of all the complaints that we received was this statement submitted by ex-church member Diego Venegaz, who lived in the church’s rehab home for over 8 months:
“I went to Victory Outreach rehab on June 10, 2016. I went there because I needed help with my addictions.
The first thing pastor Jose made me do is to go apply for General assistance and food stamps. I was getting $400 on EBT card which means money on a card from general assistance, but I was not allowed to use the EBT card, Pastor Jose took the ebt card away, and said it was for rent. And we were not allowed to use the food stamps. Jose took the food stamps away. We were only allowed to eat food that was donated, and the food most of the time was expired. We didn’t get nutritious, healthy food. Pastor Jose controls the food we are told when to eat, what to eat, they force me to fast 21-30 days when I was on discipline, can only eat vegetables. We never had fresh vegetables, only can vegetables from donation food. No breakfast! We get a lot of donuts through donations. We eat a lot of donuts. We are treated like slaves always working everyday Monday through Sunday. No days off. We get up at 5:00 am. When I was on discipline I got up at 2-3am to wash all the cars from the church, then at 5:00 am go to work. We worked long hours with very little food. My lunch to work was 2 pieces of bread with peanut butter and water. One of the jobs we went to for was Encore Events. We unloaded trucks, tables, chairs, etc. Greg from Encore events talked to Pastor Jose and told him that encore events was paying him $15,000.00 a month for 10 guys. A lot of money for Pastor Jose to send the guys to work with a crappy lunch.
I was tired all the time. We had no privacy, too much noise, too much activities, to much work, to much worship, praying, reading for hours and hours. Too many chores, no time to rest, our minds were overloaded. You can not be by yourself at anytime, always in two’s, that’s called accountability. We are always tired, lack of sleep, not enough nutritious meals, with a lot of work, with no rest. And you have no choice you are forced to do it; they really treat you like a slave. You are forced to be silent. We are not allowed to talk, they silent you. They intimidate you, harass you, and scare you, until you submit.
I think Pastor Jose never like me, because I was not submissive, loyal or wealthy. I always said I didn’t like it there. I was not allowed to say that. You were only allowed to say good things about the church. If you talked about the church business you would get in trouble. I was always in trouble, on discipline for talking. I faced public humiliation, harassment, intimidation, and they made fun of me, everybody was against everybody. They make up lies to fight each other. I was bullied; they made me feel worthless, like I was nothing.
If you are not submissive, loyal, you get disciplined. They take away your visits and phone calls. You are not allowed to talk to your family. They create a lot of drama and conflict against each other. They create animosity, gossip, lies, and bully people around. I got bullied because of my heavy accent. According to them I’m not worthy and loyal. In my opinion, Victory Outreach church is a living hell, and Pastor Jose is the devil.
Pastor Jose has no compassion. He is not considerate of others. When somebody goes to the hospital, Pastor Jose never visits. He treats everyone like a slave. Pastor Jose thinks he is better than everyone else. He is arrogant, conceited, and thinks the whole world is about him. Pastor Jose made us wash his black Lexus two times a day, everyday in the hot sun. He would make guys wash his rims. The last time I washed his black Lexus car; he came and said to us there is a spot. Nobody saw a spot. The car was clean, it gets washed twice a day, so I got mad and said why don’t you clean it. He said to me, “Come to my office, Pastor Jose said why do you talk to me like that. And I was discipline for three weeks for saying that.
When it comes to chasing your goals and dreams Pastor Jose discourages you by telling you that it is selfish. That God has better things for you, so that you stay at church. They make fun of your goals. Your goals are harassed. They break your goals and dreams. They kill your motivation leaving you with no motivation. I always had the feeling of helplessness, trapped, with no way out. This is how I felt being at Victory Outreach.
On March 7 2017 the day I was feeling very depressed, because I felt trapped, helpless? I didn’t want to be at Victory Outreach, but I didn’t know what to do. I felt helpless, trapped, with no way-out. I was going through some personal stuff. I was bullied by everyone, they made me feel worthless. I swallowed 60 pills with the intent to harm my self as a result I was sent to the hospital. The name of the Hospital is Ukiah Valley Medical Center. 275 Hospital Drive, Ukiah, CA. 95482 Then I was sent to the mental facility. I was there for eleven days. The name of the mental facility is Restpadd, 2750 Eureka Way Redding, CA 96001.
Currently I’m living on my own, out of Victory Outreach. And I have never felt better in my life. I feel free, I’m trying to find a job, and I’m trying to adjust to the real world.”
Our online research discovered numerous complaints about various Victory Outreach rehab home ministry branches in the U.S. and the U.K., leading us to believe that the alleged deception, manipulation and exploitation is not isolated to the Santa Rosa, CA branch.
“Hi my name is Zach Ive been to three VO mens homes in the past three years four times on and off. I live in Northern California and let me tell you its corrupt. These people are not of Christ more like the anti-Christ. Where do I even begin. They strip you of everything they take your welfare and use it how they want (food stamps etc.). Sometimes they use your food stamps on themselves and give you whatever table scraps are left. They work you like a dog but insure that no employment opportunities are ever available to you,lest you leave there homes and become employed by whomever they had you working for in their "Christian recovery home". These guys are professional con artists. They'll throw an unending guilt trip at you,shove their tradition down your throat. What can I say these people are highly deceptive and I haven't even begun.”
“Victory Outreach Abuse... BE CAREFUL of Victory Outreach. Before you join in on their "Vision" understand that you will be stripped of all the visions God has shown you in your life. You will be made to let go of all free thinking and the visions God has given to you. You will lose who you are and what you stand for. You will be criticised, cursed and made to serve, serve, serve. Even at the expense of your own family. Please do not get conned into this system of spiritual abuse. It is a cult. A cult is : great devotion to a person, idea, object, movement, or work ... Sony Arganzoni, the great leader is mentioned more in the messages than Jesus Christ himself.”
“They use mind control techniques to control the weak-minded. Recovery homes are very authoritarian, and the directors are very abusive, working their slaves on 16 hour labor jobs, fixing the pastors homes, or church, etc.”
“All of the abuses and injustices perpetrated upon me and others at Victory Outreach are too numerous to list here. So I will only mention one particularly un-Christian incident that flies in the face of drug recovery practices. Each morning all of the guys are sent out on jobs with a sack lunch consisting of one peanut butter sandwich and a 25 cents bag of chips (no drinks). On this particular day, I worked alone at this job (menial work). I began the day at 6am, and my workday was over at 4pm. Victory Outreach left me there until 11pm that night, standing outside of the business waiting to be picked up, hungry, penniless, drug-addicted, and in an unfamiliar area. It was the true power of God that prevented me from chasing my addiction that night. No real recovery program would leave an addict alone for that amount of time, if they left them alone at all. The living arrangements are similar to what is seen in the movie, Midnight Express. They accept anyone because it is about cheap labor, that's all.”
“Lived at a VO (san Jose CA) for a while and I believe it is a cult!! When you are told when to pray and for how long every day, when you are deprived food for weeks at a time and not allowed sleep for days. Something is wrong!! I have acute asthma and was told it was a sin to take my meds because it meant I didn't believe God could heal me.”
“We would be dropped off at grocery stores in the morning and not picked up until very late and many times not given any food. One night I was sexually assaulted by a man in the parking lot during one of those nights, and when I reported to it the VO leader, I was told "well God protects his children, so if you were attacked it must be your fault" I would recommend you stay as far away from VO as possible!”
“My name is Gia. I attended the Oakland Church 07-09, then briefly in 2013. I was not in their homes but have definitely witnessed spiritual abuse,MAJOR dysfunction within Leadership, etc.., which hindered my spiritual growth.”
“Ive been involved with the Victory Outreach of Las Vegas for over 8 years and it has been terrible........Ive been physically assaulted numerous times.....verbally intimidated year after year.....reputation degraded, profiled, slandered, and now that my son is involved the same things are happening to him as well.....He is 12 a was punched 3 times by an adult who was attending a youth service and I wasn’t notified......When I arrived no one in charge made any attempted to contact me.......and they have been using my 12 year old son to do manual labor in the church late nights......straightening chairs and cleaning sometimes till almost 10pm at night......I went inside to confront the personnel as to why and immediately I was approached violently by young adults to the point where I was being threatened to be assaulted…”
“the recovery home is dilapidated and un kept....years ago money was donated to remodel but wasn’t professionally......now the house is even worse with unsanitary plumbing human sewage spilling outside the living quarters......10+ men living in a make shift room built outside out of scrap donated lumber with the roof caving in.....Once saw an unskilled man fall through the roof trying to repair it......the entire property is INFESTED with bed bugs…Its terrible at Victory Outreach Las Vegas......through the years I've been told by leaders that I had emotional/mental problems......that I was bipolar so much to the point where I believed them.....I was so concerned about it that I check myself into a local mental hospital for an entire week of evaluating...over $3000 in bills.....The doctors told me there was nothing wrong with me…”
“They are looking for homeless drug addicts and GANG bangers that get welfare checks, so they can get them into their home, and feed them beans and rice.”
“I was at Victory Temple Ministries in Ft Worth TX, and Im so glad to be done with that place. It was when the assistant pastor reached over to North Korea for an example of authority & devotion to ones leader that was the last straw for me. “
“You have to give them all of your wages or government benefits if you receive them.And the men's home living conditions that many churches have are absolutely deplorable. And yes woman are treated as second class citizens this made my blood boil.”
“so what do we do if we want to take our money back..i have invested a lot in this so called ministry...they have collected $1000 pledge a d have asked us to pay $200 a month on top of our 10% and we don’t even have a church building so where’s all that money going?”
“VO is full of child molesters and fornicators of every kind, married & single. I know this personally as I attended this church as a young teen. I was not a drug user or gang member, I was just homeless. The fact that this church is full of ex drug addicts and ex convicts is the least of their problems. The pastors and leaders are worshiped at this church and everyone does as they are told by the church leaders, without question. They get away with the worst kind of sin here. Taking advantage of innocent youth and children. Trust me I know.”
“Victory Outreach is brainwashing people to believe they can't make it without them Sonny is getting richer every day can't you see what's going on here the private jet all his luxuries wake up “
“ABUSIVE 'wolves in sheep's clothing' I came away in a much more traumatized state than before I got mixed up with VO in Salford, Manchester. Disgraceful bunch.”
“Victory outreach is pretty scandalous. I have lived in a rehab home of theirs and it is all about using people from the homes to make them MONEY MONEY MONEY. They lie like it is their second nature when it comes to anything having to do with money. It is not just the broken people who are in their rehab homes, they also try and pry into the wallets of their gullible flock. It was such a great honor for me one time to witness their mucho greedy founder Sunny Argunzizzi make a visit to the San Jose, California church. It was kind of like when the Emperor visited the Death Star for the first time. Anyway the San Jose pastor is a guy named Ed or Fred I can't remember his name, I'll just call him Freddie and what Freddie preached about one night when Argunzizzi was visiting was how their church needed its members to sell their houses on an act of faith and give the money to Freddie and Argunzizzi so they could purchase some General Electric property they desired so badly. I couldn't believe it and I still can't to this day how greedy those two guys were.”
“Victory outreach has a cultic structure. I have been involved with getting people out of them in the past. This married couple sold all they had and made themselves the slaves of the pastor. The lived in the "church home" worked in the pastor's business and were not paid. They use heavy handed discipleship or Shepherding Movement control over their people. This couple left the group with only the clothes on their back and nothing but spiritual confusion after 2 plus years of "service.””
“Yes it is. I gave 6 years of my life to that ministry. I was a leader in the church and worked in the church office. They manipulate and coerce people to follow their vision. In return tons of people give lots of money just to fill the pockets of the those that are greedy leaders. There is a lot of spiritual abuse that goes on and lots of misuse of spiritual authority. That is what a cult does.”
“Sonny" and the VO pastors have no meaningful accountability or financial transparency. That is, there are no democratically elected boards voted in by the general membership that can discipline and if necessary fire a pastor. No constitution or bylaws provide for this. There is no meaningful financial transparency through independently audited published financial statements that detail all salaries, compensation and expenses paid from ministry funds. Without that kind of accountability VO is little more than a dictatorship where pastors can essentially do whatever they want. If you wish to support such a system that's your choice, but most Protestant churches are not run that way and have the previously cited safeguards to protect members and church funds from abuse.”
“I know it is. I have been a member of vo for over three years and my friends all tell me that what they are doing to me is "Cult" like behavior. At first I didn’t believe it but once I started to make a few changes in my walk with them I noticed the "Cult" style response. I started dating someone in the church but didn't ask permission to date them and I was nearly kicked out of the city. Even the person that I was dating was pushed out too. they took it harder than me because they have been with the church for more years than me. He was over used for his skills and talents as a labor of construction. working for free for many years. never being paid for his hard labor, and even thought they had pushed us out it didn’t stop them from asking more of him and his talents. so like a sucker he helped them out for free for more than two weeks, builing the Pastor another room on his house, just to be kicked to the curb when he was done. He even paid out his pocket some of the cost for the new room.”
“I was told that I couldn't have friends from the world in my life because they are of the world and would drag me down…Always have to ask permission to do things with other people from the church.”
“Money in Victory Outreach is a major issue. In the Victory Outreach I attended, they a would dedicate a whole month every year on tithing. I agree that tithing is something every believer should do as an act of obedience and worship to the Lord. However, in Victory Outreach they would literally try to guilt you into giving “above and beyond.” The pastor would parade the highest giver in the church every month, to throw it in the faces of those who didn’t give as much. It would later spark up a “giving” competition with those trying to “win their pastor’s heart.” I remember one time Ed Morales came to the church and fed the congregation this story of how people in his church were giving “above and beyond” to further the “vision.” Even to the extent that they were selling their homes and cars etc. I knew exactly what he was doing, trying to manipulate our church to do the same.”
This complaint, published on the Cult Education Institute’s website , is from an ex-pastor who was involved with Victory Outreach for approximately 11 years:
“I was a Pastor in what I believe is an authoritarian and abusive organization. I was with this group for approximately 11 years. I was one of those who tried to stick it out and bring about change in the organization—a big mistake, you know how the story goes. I became a rebel and disloyal etc., in their eyes and I was finally so hurt, wounded, and fed up with what I experienced that that along with the full support of the leadership in our church we pulled our church out of the organization and found out their even deeper abusive character. I was undermined and discredited by them to the point that I knew that I could no longer continue to minister (I will explain that a little later) I moved myself and family to get away and rest. The ministry in question is Victory Outreach Ministries International, founded by Sonny Arguinzoni in 1967 in Los Angeles California. He is an ordained minister of the Assemblies of God. Victory Outreach is a ministry that exclusively reaches out to drug addicts and gang members. Of all the street type ministries I would say that Victory Outreach appears to be the most legitimate on the outside. which I believe makes them the most dangerous.”
“People are being used and not served in this organization. People are seen as commodities to promote their vision through the giving of their FINANCES and their TOTAL COMMITMENT to Pastor Sonny’s cause.”
“The financial pressure that the Pastor’s of Victory Outreach are put under is unbearable. Let me quote to you a portion of my letter of resignation (which I have enclosed) to Pastor Sonny:
"In regards to the financial pressure that is put on the Pastor’s of Victory Outreach I would like to show you by using my own church how out of balance this is using figures from my 1995 budget:
◦ $6,057.00 - Tithes to corp. Office - mandatory
◦ $5,000.00 - Corp. Building fund - mandatory
◦ $4,000.00 - 1995 world conference - mandatory
◦ $1,500.00 - U.W.C. - not mandatory but expected
◦ $1,200.00 - Yr. Ministers license fees - mandatory
◦ $1,200.00 - Men’s rehab. home fees - mandatory
◦ $635.00 - Misc. - mandatory
◦ $625.00 - 1995 youth conference - mandatory
◦ $450.00 - Women’s rehab. Fees - mandatory
◦ TOTAL = $21,467.00 - from our 1995 budget went to the Victory Outreach Corp. offices
Mandatory required giving that I believe is wrong!”
“It is not clear and is deceptive how the corporate structure of Victory Outreach and its local churches fit into that structure. All of the local Victory Outreach churches that I know of are under the umbrella of the Victory Outreach Ministries International Corporation (they are not incorporated at the local level as say with the Calvary Chapels), but they are considered separate entities under that corporate structure and they are each financially independent and are responsible for their own liabilities. The Corporation is set up in such a way as to protect itself from any liabilities at the local church level. The Victory Outreach Corporation had never at any time invested even one cent into the church that I pastored but they did pull thousands of dollars out of it as with the other churches as well. While with Victory Outreach I was never given a copy of the Corporate bylaws nor did I ever hear it even discussed at any time. They seem to know their corporate structure well—but we sure didn’t. I suggested in a conversation after I had left, to Pastor Sonny’s second in command Elder Saul Garcia (who runs the Victory Outreach Corporate offices), that maybe it would be a good idea to inform their Pastors of the Corporate Bylaws and structure—so that Pastors who are considering leaving the organization would know and understand the very structure that they are under. This was not well-received and Mr. Garcia’s only defense was—that he had never read all the Corporate Bylaws himself. He then tried to convince me that because I was hurt I was imagining things and that I couldn’t see things in proper perspective. He then proceeded to vent his full anger at me. The Victory Outreach Leadership and Corporate Structure is abusive and knows how to take advantage of people in situations such as mine. They know very well what they are doing and how to play the game—but you don’t. We were always told that we were "free to leave the organization at any time". However, if you do leave the Victory Outreach organization, they [may], without your knowledge, lay claim to all properties, assets, and equipment that you have acquired. I mean this literally—they will contact your landlords, leaseholders, banks etc. and claim everything as their property and discredit you to your business associates.”
The numerous independent complaints online seem to corroborate some of the allegations being made against Victory Outreach of Santa Rosa, CA, and as such we believe that the negative issues regarding this church seem to be systemic throughout the entire organization and not isolated to this one church branch. If you have ever been manipulated, exploited and/or abused during your involvement in a Victory Outreach church, or know someone who has, please contact FACT with your story.
RECRUITMENT, INDOCTRINATION, AND PRACTICES
Regarding church recruitment and indoctrination and practices with the Victory Outreach church in general, numerous complaints state the following:
“The group is preoccupied with bringing in new members.”
“This was a big issue in the Victory Outreach I attended. They were always focusing on how they could get more people in the church. Even to the extent of having a church growth class.”
“The live-in rehabilitation homes of Victory Outreach are nothing more than indoctrination centers and are unbiblical. The residents are required to give up their total freedom for a one year period of time where they [may] ... not be allowed to leave, use the phone, do any of the normal things in life that are done, without strict and tightly regulated permission of the leadership. Total unquestioned obedience and loyalty to leadership is a major emphasis taught in these homes. Many of the Director’s of these home is total dictator’s not servants. The rehabilitation homes are exploiting the residents by their constant fund raising efforts of car wash projects, lawn care, hauling and moving, selling pancake breakfast tickets and rally tickets in shopping centers and parking lots. Residents of these homes are often shipped city to city, even state to state to help out as financial fund raisers for major Victory Outreach events. The Pastors of Victory Outreach use the rehabilitation homes many times as their major financial fund raising tool to finance their many events. Much spiritual abuse takes place in the controlled environment of these rehabilitation homes.”
“Working in the inner-city, I've received constant proselytism and heard many stories about this ministry. Based on everything I've seen and heard, I've concluded the Victory Outreach is a dangerous cult that preys on the poor in order to exploit them financially and in the words of their founder Sonny Arguinzoni, to create and army to take back the cities for christ. Members are lured when they are recovering from serious problems such as drug addiction and abusive relationships and "sexual confusion" put into group homes wherein they are supervised by unlicensed "youth ministers" and put through a program of biblical study, sleep and food deprivation. Once integrated within the church, they are encouraged to spend all of their time within the church and invest large amounts of money into church programs that would otherwise be free, all the while feeling stigmatized whenever they try to leave or disobey any of the churches activities. Dating is forbidden unless approved by the church and marriage is forbidden until a year of dating. No physical romantic contact including kissing or holding hands is permitted until after marriage and marriage to non-members is forbidden. Their international activities also includes "ministering" to prostitutes in countries such as mexico in ways which can be interpreted as kidnapping foreign nationals. Many of their efforts are especially negatively directed towards jews and homosexuals, exploiting deep rooted prejudices within minority communities. Those that have left the church, including someone i work with have experienced threats, alienation, economic harassment, and malicious litigation by the church. Their own founder comments on his goals as "spreading to the cities and never leaving" using very militaristic language.”
“I was once involved in Victory Outreach and saw the rejected and dejected there. People were abused by this group, which claims to be Christian, but really offers its own theology.”
“I was a member of Victory Outreach for seven years. But I realized that there were many things wrong. People were told they didn't need education and the church was always raising money for something to 'expand the vision.' Expecting members to give 'above and beyond.' I am in agreement with what everyone else has expressed about this church. Victory Outreach seems in some ways to engage in mind control."
“Teach Sonny's Vision at all times. Trust that Sonny and his so-called Elders are men of integrity. We sold all we had to go out in the mission field. Little did we know that VO might not provide for their missionaries, regardless of what challenges families faced. They refused to take responsibility, even though they had funding from 'United We Can,' which was supposedly to be used for missionaries.The families that are out there, are constantly worrying about how there are going to provide for themselves, their congregation and still send Sonny money. If you even say anything about this, you are considered a negative person. The VO detention camps leave you worse off than when you came in. Because all you hear from these fanatics is, 'You don't have enough faith to take your city for Jesus.' Discouragement instead of encouragement. Rebuke instead of Love. Enemies instead of friends. The ongoing abuse does not stop. We did not want to be a part of such an organization, so we finally decided to walk away."
“Your site has helped me to deal with Sonny's tactics. He and his family are enriched by the sacrifice of the hurting many. They demand 10% of your income, a dollar-a-day and a greater 'blessing' if you belongs to a special club. And if you give then you have his 'vision,' which he says is Gods' vision! Sonny charges outrageous prices for his special retreats. His M.O. regarding rehab homes is to indoctrinate the hurting to bow at his feet and pay the price through their work. Sonny supposedly has this 'God-given' special 'anointing' and he has mislead many. Again, I thank God for you and the courage your site helps create."
"I went almost two months without even being able to contact my family, and even get a letter from them. They used to say that our middle name should be 'flow.' We were supposed to just go with the flow of things. They said we need to learn how to submit to authority. I remember having a severe tooth ache, and not being able to even take medicine for it. I also remember them working us like slaves, and I didn't know untill way later that they got paid off of our labor. All I know is that when I finally left the home I thought God was gonna strike me with lightning; because they said I made a covenant with god and if I left my life would be 'seven times seven worse.”
“We clicked on your site by accident and we were surprised by what we read. Someone we know was in victory outreach (won't say where), a new one. This person is grateful to V.O but couldn't stay in the mens home longer than a month. The things you wrote in your article are exactly the things he experienced (once he was free from the drugs) very little food and told to sit down and shut up and read his bible. We ourselves were sadly part of V.O for a year, but when we saw what went on we decided our time had come to leave.”
“My daughter was in the women's home in northern California. I am a born-again Christian, and the way they run a home was just appalling. They don't feed the women properly and work them out in the hot sun. They take their welfare money each month, and then won't give them toilet paper. After my daughter left the home, we went to church Sunday morning and they rebuked her. They would not even look at or talk to her. I asked the pastor's wife where is the love of God? You can't take people off the street and then not take care of there personal needs.”
“My wife and I were members of Victory Outreach. What a complete nightmare this so-called 'Christian Church' was. All they ever talked about was money, money, money. When the pastor started asking for 25% of our income we knew it was time to get out. All the pastors there worship money. Even in bible studies the would constantly press for money. If you don't give, they shun and isolate you. They worship Pastor Sonny, who runs around in tailored suits, drives a BMW and wears a Rolex. Sonny owns a yacht and keeps an apartment in New York City. V.O. uses the name of Jesus to make money for its leaders, who live a high lifestyle. What a disgrace to almighty God they are. The V.O. founder is a dictator and money is its God. We will continue to pray that unsuspecting members will be delivered from these wolves in sheep's clothing.”
“"I am writing as a witness to the spiritual abuse and lies from Sonny, his family dynasty and 'yes men.' These so called elders who use psychological terrorism. I went to an indoctrination center for over nine months. I was vulnerable, seeking God and help. I was ripe for abuse. Forty men were cramped into a two bedroom house sleeping anywhere and everywhere. We were told to get on General Relief and those who did not were forced to leave. They said we must be obedient to the leadership because 'God' had 'anointed' them.”
“I came out of Victory Outreach at Santa Cruz--same legalism and worldly control trips going on there. I've got some stories as bad if not worse. Well, just wanted to say thanks for warning people.”
“I went to V.O, when I felt lost. I found that they took adavantage of me in every way possible. From the free rides to labor to money they are a cult to say the least. I went on a trip to the beach where they were supposed to burn everything that was "worldly" to them. I loaded my van with about 6 huge tables and supplies and drove to the beach at 9am, they are slavedrivers not followers of Christ.. After 7 or 8 hours they still refused to feed us, I had to borrow money to eat, and I shared with my fellow starving slaves. They knew I had a sleeping -disorder, but when I asked to leave they acted like a-holes. They all are a bunch of fools and losers who think they can free-stlye flow. Oh ya, they sink so low as to try and infiltrate all the young or knew cool people by way of mind control. They are nice to certain people so that they might join and recruit their friends.I'v heard them talk wierd things, they are very controling. I was really trying to fing god and do my mission to spread the gospel until christ returns. V.O. exploits people,the administration know's who they are. Its a business, they wont truly help you. They wont baptize people unless you pay them enough money.”
“After finding your site I could literally cry. I was wondering if the Victory Outreach program (church) that you [posted information] about was the same one I placed my sister in two months ago. And there can be no doubt it was. I placed my sister in their home thinking it was Christian in-patient drug rehabilitation. After 3 weeks of serious abuse, she left the program in need of medical help. They refused to take her to a hospital and told her that her illness was a 'spirit.' She called me just after midnight and I picked her up and took her to the hospital. While in the program she was made to work 6 days a week approximately 12 hours a day doing car washes and cleaning houses to "earn money for the home" along with the other women in the house. She was only allowed two meals a day, usually beans and rice and one day mandatory fasting despite showing symptoms of diabetes, which runs in our family.”
“They first get a vision that a select few will be passionate about and feel like they belong. They will be filled with purpose to help fulfill this vision. The leadership will then use tactics to test the individuals loyalty and commitment to the cause. They do this by severe manipulation tactics. They make you feel if you don't give this and that then you are not sold out and are not wanting to see Gods kingdom expand. In truth it is actually the kingdom of Sonny Arguinzoni Sr. and all of his cronies.”
Regarding the Victory Outreach branch in Santa Rosa, CA, an ex-member had this to say about his experience there:
Date: October 27, 2009 12:40PM
“I am an ex member of Victory Outreach Santa Rosa. I am going to divulge information if you will on the things that I and others have experienced while at Victory Outreach Santa Rosa.
About 6 years ago Victory Outreach Santa Rosa lost key leaders. They lost 3 ministerial couples, and their worship leader/head church administrator. The ministerial couples left because of the misappropriation of funds. When they asked Pastor Jose questions, his response was that he was he charge and not to question his decisions with the finances. See in Victory Outreach, especially VOSR, the Pastor is not accountable to anybody. There is no church council, church board or a group of elders to keep him accountable. Pastor Jose claims that his accountability is Rick Alanis all the way in San Bernardino.
One of the ministers tried to explain to Jose that he over fleecing the people in the church and that he needed to let up on the offerings and the pledges. He tried to explain to Jose that the church would not be able to afford to stay afloat. Jose never listened. So these families left and everything stayed business as usual. I was in the men's rehab home during this time and boy was I busy. After I worked 10-12 hours a day helping build the church, as did the rest of the men's home I would have to go do a moving job or help cook dinner. Then I had to take a 3 minute shower and do house chores. If I was lucky I would be forced to sign up for General Assistance and earn welfare money to help support the home also. If I complained I was "not loyal" or I was "not dedicated to the cause."
So the church was built and everybody was happy, well kind of. See everybody had given so much money that people in the church had to get food stamps and go on welfare. Then came the part of supporting the new church. Every week there would be a new pledge for the church building. People were already giving a 10% tithe to the church and then pledging 100, 200, 500, 1000 and even 2000 and beyond dollars to have paid with 6 months. Being in VOSR everybody had dreams to something great for God. Pastor Jose is really charismatic and is awesome in increasing your faith to be a preacher, a leader, a pastor, an evangelist or a Pastor's Wife someday. But if you are in leadership you have to lead by example and give first. If you are really serious for God and want to see the vision of Sonny Arguinzoni Sr come to pass you better give. I would hear things all the time like, "put your money where your mouth is," or my personal favorite, "you use to spend all your money on your dope but you can't spend it on God?" There was times where Pastor Jose wouldn't let anyone leave the building until they pledged money. Former Assistant Pastor Richard Contreras even joked about putting a ATM machine in the foyer.
One couple went to Cape Town, SA to help start up the worship team for the new Pastors James and Anna Brady. Before they left, the church picked up a huge offering for musical instruments. When they got there all of the money had already been spent on other things. When they asked where the money was James Brady said that he decided to use it on something else. There was a couple that sold everything they had, and gave up jobs to go start a women’s rehab in Cape Town. When they came home they had no support from the church. A man was sent to Santa Rosa to be a missionary in Cape Town. A huge offering was picked up for him to go. A year and a half later he still hasn't gone. When asked Pastor Jose said that the Lord hasn't given him the green light yet. When an ex member called the church office about the $100 that she she gave for the missionary and if she could get it back, she was told that they would look in to it. That was 3 months ago.
Pastor Jose drives a beautiful Chrysler 300 with 20 inch chromed out rims. He wear the best clothes, has the best watch and has all of his and his wife’s needs taken care of by the church. His wife is on payroll also, but mysteriously never works a day in the office and is never available to talk to anybody. His wife even sells knock off purses. When she was confronted about it by a female member of the church, she was ostracized by the church, and treated like an amish kid that left the farm.
Between 2004 and 2006 there was a Pastor by the name of Richard Contreras from the South Asia area that came to VOSR on a sabbatical. He was having his own problems with women and money that he needed a break. The congregation at VOSR was told by Pastor Jose that he was here to recuperate and get his health in order. So Richard fit in well. He was very loved and embraced by VOSR. He was a big time Pastor in VO so he had a lot of influence. Richard started to work for a millionaire by the name of Giovanni from the VO in Las vegas. This guy was a Real Estate developer and also made a living on getting people that would never stand a chance a loan. Pastor Jose loved him so much that he had him come to VOSR and preach to the congregation. The sermon was basically about prosperity and how God wants to bless you. Then Richard started wanting people in the church to own their own home. He pumped it up to the point that everyone would have a chance to own their own home. So tons of people bought in to it including Pastor Jose. The big gimmick was get a home and $10,000 back in cash. Richard pulled strings and got Pastor Jose, Assistance Pastor Elias Gaitan and a lot others their chance to buy a home. He even made it possible for the church to purchase the women’s rehab home.
Then it all came crumbling down. Everyone's home became foreclosed and Richard was nowhere to be found. He even left left his wife without telling her. Since then business has been usual for Victory Outreach. Lot's of key leaders have left along with other congregation members. If you were to go in to a service or ask somebody you would here them say that the devil got the best of them or that they were not loyal to the vision. or you would here them say that VO isn't for everybody.
Two years ago I contacted the Hayward Victory Outreach and spoke with Pastor Joesy Pineda. Joesy and her husband Steve (who went home to be with the Lord) sent out Pastor jose and Kimberly Guadarrama to Santa Rosa. They were to replace a fallen Pastor named Victor Carrillo who misused money for personal gain and had an affair with a women in the church. I let Joesy know by telephone all that I had seen and heard from other viable sources. She then put me in contact with Pastor Saul Garcia who is the Founder Sonny Arguinzoni, Sr's right hand guy. Saul assured me that they would send a team to investigate the problem and then thanked me for coming to him first. Two years later Pastor Saul has yet to send a team to investigate.
I hope that this information has been useful to someone. Victory Outreach Santa Rosa as well as Victory Outreach Intl are nothing more than ex gang member, drug addicts who have a very warped sense of power and of what Jesus Christ and the Ministry of the Body of Christ is all about. They are a cult. There agenda is nothing more than to train passionate, loyal converts who will give of time and money to fulfill the greedy desires of its leadership. I love the friends that I once called family at VO and I pray that they get out soon.”
The writer of this complaint later recanted on his statement (a year and a half years later), though it seems there may have been a coercing influence behind it judging by his reasoning. Read and judge for yourself.
ANALYSIS OF THE ALLEGATIONS
ACCORDING TO THE B.I.T.E. MODEL
Our analysis of the allegations received utilizing cult expert Steven Hassan's B.I.T.E. model. The B.I.T.E. model is comprised of four different categories of control:
I. Behavior Control
II. Information Control
III. Thought Control
IV. Emotional Control
This model of analysis is based upon the work of Robert J. Lifton, Margaret Singer and other well respected psychologists and cult experts, and is used by many professionals in the field to distinguish between destructive and benign cultic groups. According to this analysis model, the documented allegations against Victory Outreach church raise numerous red flags in all four control categories, thereby defining this organization as a destructive high-control / high-demand cult.
The breakdown is as follows:
a. Deliberately withhold information
b. Distort information to make it more acceptable
c. Systematically lie to the cult member
a. Internet, TV, radio, books, articles, newspapers, magazines, other media
b. Critical information
c. Former members
d. Keep members busy so they don’t have time to think and investigate
a. Ensure that information is not freely accessible
b. Control information at different levels and missions within group
c. Allow only leadership to decide who needs to know what and when
a. Adopting the group's ‘map of reality’ as reality
b. Instill black and white thinking
According to the complaints we received and those found online, we believe Victory Outreach seems to be functioning as a destructive cult that is manipulating and exploiting its members. A significant amount of ex-members describe Victory Outreach in very negative terms, which in our opinion is a testament to what is actually going on within the organization. To summarize the complaints, Victory Outreach has been described as a “spiritual pyramid scheme” with founder Sonny Arguinzoni and his leadership benefiting at the expense of the free labor of the lower members. Ex-members have reported that they were forced to work long hours without pay and that they were deprived of basic needs like food, sleep, recreation time and were forced to live in overcrowded, unsanitary conditions. There are complaints about brainwashing techniques in order to keep residents in submission to the leadership.
In response to the complaints that we received and our investigation, we contacted and mobilized the efforts of numerous relevant government agencies that we felt needed to be alerted, as follows:
Attorney General Xavier Becerra, California Department of Justice, Sacramento, CA
Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, Supreme Court of California, San Francisco, CA
The Honorable Raima Ballinger, Superior Court Judge, Sonoma County, CA
The Honorable Anthony Wheeldin, Superior Court Commissioner, Sonoma County, CA
Jill R. Ravitch, District Attorney, Sonoma County, CA
California Labor Commissioners Office, Santa Rosa, CA
Health Services Department of Sonoma County, Santa Rosa, CA
To date the Attorney General, the Sonoma County court system and the California Department of Labor have all failed to respond to our complaints. The Health Services Department said that they could not help in the matter. The District Attorney’s office, however, is currently in the process of investigating these claims and we will update our expose with any and all information related to the investigative efforts of these agencies, and hope that they will perform a thorough investigation of this church.
A final quote from ex-pastor Peter Belaustegui of the Victory Outreach International organization:
“Victory Outreach may have the outward appearance of success and recognition for its work with drug addicts and gang members—but I believe that many people are being fooled, deceived and destroyed by this ministry. It may be a great shock to many people to find out about the real inner workings of this ministry. I’m sure many people will simply choose not to believe it. if things are ever brought into the light. But the sad truth is that many denominations, organizations, and movements may seem genuine and have all the appearance of success outwardly (as the Pharisees did), but on the inside they are filled with greed and corruption.”
If you have any additional information about Victory Outreach that you would like to share, either positive or negative, please contact us.