911 call leads to Olivet University federal money-laundering and human trafficking investigation

Diane Sieker photo

Early Version story. Olivet University has been contacted directly for comment. 

A tense 911 call in March, 2018, from a student who claimed she had not been allowed to leave the Anza Olivet University campus for months, immersed Riverside County investigators in a probe alongside federal authorities, according to a recent story published in the Mercury News.

Homeland Security Investigations, a division of U.S. and Customs Enforcement, launched its investigation into Olivet University in 2019 in partnership with the Riverside County Sheriff's Department and District Attorney's Office. The focus of the probe has reportedly been fraud, money-laundering and .

The 911 call was made by 22-year-old Rebecca Singh, a student who immigrated to the U.S. from India to attend the university, the Mercury News reported.

According to a sheriff's dispatch report, Singh said she was living in a camper on the 1,000-acre Anza campus and had not been allowed to leave for months.

She also told the dispatcher there were “300 Asian men and women” living five to six people per room in campus buildings.

By the time a sheriff's deputy arrived, Singh had enlisted the assistance of Olivet's former kitchen manager, Anza resident Melissa Sims, and escaped the university property.

Olivet denied the allegations.

Some of the students, according to Newsweek, a New York-based weekly news magazine with former ties to the Olivet organization, said they had been offered full scholarships to attend the school, but when they arrived at the remote Anza campus they were informed that they owed the college money and had to work to pay off their debt.

Anza's Olivet University, as well as other Olivet campuses nationwide, are being investigated by the , as to whether the university was part of a scheme to launder money for criminals in China and the United States and was labor trafficking.

Additionally, according to a report by Newsweek earlier this year, New York shut down Olivet University's operations in the state, saying the Christian college was still largely run by a group of David Jang disciples linked to a 2018 criminal conspiracy.

Unrelated to the current federal investigation Olivet pleaded guilty to money laundering, as did several of Jang's followers and the companies they ran. Olivet also paid a $1.25 million fine. In February 2020, Olivet pleaded guilty in New York to one count of conspiracy and falsifying business records in a scheme to fraudulently obtain $35 million from lenders, as reported in the Mercury News.

Jang, a Korean American cleric, founded Olivet University in 2000 and the Anza 1,000 acre site was purchased in 2014. The school serves students that are mainly from China, offering full scholarships to prepare students for missionary work and ministry.

The NY education department's decision to close the Olivet campuses in Manhattan and Dover, NY, after a two-year review, was made weeks after Newsweek reported that DHS investigators had searched the premises of Olivet's headquarters in Anza, California, as part of an ongoing criminal investigation.

Agents from Homeland Security Investigations, the principal investigative arm of DHS, searched Olivet's campus in Anza along with Riverside County Sheriffs and DA investigators in 2021, officials said. Homeland Security Investigations confirmed to Newsweek that the search warrant was executed on the school's Anza campus. However, the warrant remains under seal, and the government has not disclosed any additional information since then.

The Mercury News reported that the federal agents who raided the campus were looking for any evidence of “force, fraud, or coercion” in relation to international students who were primarily from China or South Korea, according to a former senior DHS official who was briefed on the case.

Olivet emailed a statement to Newsweek, saying, “The DHS visit was based on misinformation. In fact, the raid ended with agents apologizing. The money laundering charges and all felony charges have been dismissed and the case is fully resolved as a misdemeanor matter.”

Richard Beam, a Homeland Security spokesman in Los Angeles, said the probe is ongoing, according to the Mercury News.

University President Matthias Gebhardt stated that investigators have not interviewed any administrators or students, as far as he knows.

The Olivet story has ties to Newsweek ownership. According to the Newsweek website, Newsweek was sold in 2013 to IBT Media, a company with ties to the Rev. David Jang, leader of the World Olivet Assembly and founder of Olivet University.

“Newsweek journalists report news about their owners with the same vigilance they apply to other interesting business owners. In 2017, when IBT Media's owners came under investigation for fraud by the Manhattan District Attorney and investigators raided Newsweek's newsroom in January 2018. The newsroom covered the case and Newsweek's owners fired several journalists including the editor-in-chief, another editor and a reporter. Current Global Editor-in-Chief Nancy Cooper agreed to stay only after receiving guarantees of total editorial independence.”

The Newsweek site continues, “When criminal charges were brought against one of IBT Media's principals, Olivet and others in 2018, Chief Executive Officer Dev Pragad purchased a 50 percent stake in Newsweek. The other IBT Media principal, Johnathan Davis, retained his half of the company and became a silent partner, no longer involved in the management of Newsweek.

No charges were brought against Newsweek as a result of the Manhattan fraud and money laundering probe. Olivet, along with several of the other defendants, pleaded guilty to felonies.

“A boardroom dispute broke into public in April 2022 when Pragad, Newsweek's CEO and president, announced that he had left Olivet and wanted to protect the company from “interference” by Olivet members.

“IBT Media CEO Davis later sued Pragad in New York State Court, demanding he return all shares of Newsweek. Pragad and Newsweek countersued Jang, several of his followers and the institutions they control, claiming that they owe Newsweek more than $30 million.

“While the case is underway, the Newsweek newsroom has continued to publish journalism, including work documenting news about IBT Media, World Olivet Assembly, and Olivet University. The editorial team operates with total independence and a rigid divide is maintained between editorial and management/ownership.

“We are in active litigation with Newsweek's executive team and you should presume that their reporting does not have any factual basis, and is purposefully damaging the reputation of our university,” Gebhardt said in an email. “We have been working with our regulators to set the record straight and the courts to defend our reputation, and will continue to do so,” as reported in the Mercury News.

To add to the college's troubles, last month, the Association of Biblical Higher Education placed the university on warning status through February 2024 for failing to demonstrate “integrity in all of its practices and relationships with strict adherence to ethical standards and its own stated policies,” according to the agency's Nov. 9 letter to Gebhardt.

Olivet's failure to resolve the deficiencies could result in action ranging from an extended warning status to withdrawal of its accreditation. An ABHE evaluation team is planning to inspect the school in spring 2023.

“Olivet University has identified areas of improvement already and is working diligently towards implementing them this year or early next year,” Gebhardt said.

In February 2019, the state Bureau of Private Postsecondary Education, a division of the Department of Consumer Affairs, served Olivet with a notice to comply after the school failed to provide it with essential student data for tuition . The university, according to the notice, failed to provide student identification numbers, email addresses, mailing addresses, courses enrolled in and the cost of the courses, among other things.

Olivet subsequently provided the with the information and paid a $5,000 fine.

Olivet also has a K-12 school at its Anza campus, Olivet Academy, which Gebhardt said is accredited by the Association of Christian Teachers and Schools, or ACTS.

Apart from the campus in California, Olivet operates the Jubilee School, a performing arts and music school, in Nashville, Tennessee.

Diane Sieker can be reached by email at [email protected] .


This “Eyes on Trafficking” story is reprinted from its original online location.


PBJ Learning is a leading provider of online human trafficking training, focusing on and prevention education. Their interactive Human Trafficking Essentials is used worldwide to educate professionals and individuals how to recognize human trafficking and how to respond to potential victims. Learn on any web browser (even your mobile phone) at any time.

More stories like this can be found in your PBJ Learning Knowledge Vault.



This “Eyes on Trafficking” story is reprinted from its original online location.


PBJ Learning is a leading provider of online human trafficking training, focusing on awareness and prevention education. Their interactive Human Trafficking Essentials online course is used worldwide to educate professionals and individuals how to recognize human trafficking and how to respond to potential victims. Learn on any web browser (even your mobile phone) at any time.

More stories like this can be found in your PBJ Learning Knowledge Vault.