Agape cult members were 'the chosen ones'

The Herald-Sun, Australia/May 30, 2010

The leader of a doomsday cult was appointed in a message delivered to his "prayer warrior" father by Jesus, it has been claimed.

'Rocco Leo, pastor of the controversial Agape Ministries, and his brother Rino, were said to be "called" together about 15 years ago as their father's religious dedication paid off.

As the church grew, its Oakden base was bought, but it is understood the property has been closed since January.

Former stonemason Rino described his late father, Biagio or Billy, as a "prayer warrior" who devoted much of his time to his own prayer after he became unhappy with the church he was then in.

"Seventeen years later, Jesus appeared to him and he told him that he has a message for him, that the prayer is like a monument before him and `I (Jesus) came to give you the good news'," Rino said.

"So my father asked him, `What is it? What do you want to tell me?' He said `I've appointed two of your children, Rocco and Rino'.

"This is what my father said. Then he (Jesus) said they will be like Moses and Aaron, his brother. Miracles, signs and wonders will follow them anywhere they go - so that's what Jesus said."

According to Rino, 58, visions of Jesus regularly returned to his father to deliver messages and one of them was to find a place to worship.

In time, Rocco, 54, obtained the Oakden property.

Former members have claimed that, although the Oakden church was initially a "beautiful, perfect" place, as years passed, right-wing conspiracy theory videos started being shown and strict rules were introduced.

They also said gates at the church were unlocked only for a set period - about half an hour - ahead of services and anyone who missed their opening could not attend.

One former follower described churchgoers as "scared, paralysed" and said some people left the congregation before Rocco apparently closed the church on January 3.

He is thought to be in Fiji or Vanuatu, where it has been claimed he wanted to take his congregation.

Rino said he did not know where his brother was but, if he could speak to him, he would ask him to return.

"I will say to him, `Come back home, we miss you, we love you'," he said. As further details emerged about the "charismatic" leader, it was revealed Rocco Leo had left rent debts of $45,000 on a former city cafe.

Goods at the now-closed Butterflies Cafe, in Pirie St, have been seized in a bid to recoup the cash, after Rocco and possible co-lessee Joseph Veneziano failed to pay rent between November 1, 2009 and May 1.

Their names appeared on a notice of re-entry displayed in the window of the premises, described by a former member as the "brainchild" of Mr Veneziano's sister Mari, who was believed to be Leo's girlfriend.

A warrant to seize goods for the sum of $47,749.96 is also on display in the cafe's window, stating the debts comprise $44,999.96 in outstanding rent and $2750 in other costs.

In another business interest, Leo has been listed by the Australian Securities and Investment Commission as the director of E-Generation Pty Ltd, which its website describes as an internet and telecommunications company offering "e-sellers" the opportunity to start their own business for "just $149".

On January 4, when Leo was appointed director, the business address was changed to 102-132 Hilltop Drive, Oakden - the church's base.

Police are continuing to investigate Agape Ministries after 90 officers targeted premises linked to it, finding unsecured firearms and ammunition as well as detonators and explosives fuses.

Two men have been charged with firearms offences and another two with firearms-related offences.

A Fiji Police spokesman confirmed it had been notified Leo was in the country and officers were investigating. However, an SA Police spokeswoman said it was possible Leo had moved on to another Pacific island and police "will be aware of when he comes back into the country".

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