Former Alberta Conservative MLA Carl Benito (right) and now immigration consultant, is facing charges of immigration fraud.  (Facebook photo)

Edmonton, Alberta

$250,000 cash found in raid of immigration consultant’s office

By Ted Alcuitas

More than $250,000 in cash were seized from the home and office of former Alberta Conservative Member of the Legislative Assembly MLA Carl Benito in Edmonton, CBC News reports.

The cash, mostly in bundles of $100 bills is  part of what the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA ) says is a three-year  investigation of an immigration fraud scheme, according to CBC News.

Search warrant documents obtained by CBC News show CBSA officials believed that since Nov. 11, 2015, Benito, now an immigration consultant, had counselled dozens of Filipino immigrants to improperly extend their stay in Alberta through a scheme that involved bogus applications for study and work-extension permits.

Benito served as Progressive Conservative MLA for Edmonton-Mill Woods from 2008 until 2012 . His term in politics was marked by controversy.

The CBSA search warrant documents show Benito and his family operate three immigration consulting companies: Triple Maple Leaf Canada, World Immigration Group and Helping Migrants Canadian Immigration.

No charges have been laid against Benito and none of the allegations in the documents have been proven in court. It is not known if the investigation is still ongoing, CBC News reports. Benito did not respond to several interview requests from CBC News over the past two days.

A search warrant application filed June 27 details how a months-long investigation allegedly determined Benito was counselling immigrants whose work permits were expiring to apply for study permits involving two small private Edmonton colleges, knowing his clients had no intention of attending.

The documents reveal this alleged fraud hinged on a scheme in which Benito, or one of his companies, arranged for up to $20,000 to be transferred into his clients’ bank accounts, and then transferred out, sometimes almost immediately. This allegedly created false proof that the clients had the necessary funds to support their education and living costs.

“Within approximately one hour, $17,000 transited through three of Benito’s clients’ bank accounts” on Jan. 28, 2016, the search warrant states. “On April 21, 2016, within approximately half an hour, $17,000 transited between two of Benito’s clients’ bank accounts. All five of these clients were applying for study permits,” according to the CBC.

Bundles of $100 bills seized

According to CBC News, the search warrants for Benito’s house and his office at an Edmonton hotel were executed on June 28, the day after Edmonton justices of the peace granted the applications.

The list of items seized from Benito’s house and office runs nearly 50 pages and includes:

  • More than $185,000 in bundles of $100 bills seized from two floor safes;
  • Bags filled with bundles of $100, $50, and $20 bills, and numerous payment envelopes filled with cash bearing what appears to be the names of clients. In total, more than $70,000 was seized from a cabinet safe;
  • Workers’ schedules, payments and employee timesheets;
  • Several computers, tablets and cell phones;
  • Ledgers, receipt books, banking records and dozens of client files.

Undercover surveillance operation

The CBSA search warrant documents describe Benito conducting a large immigration business from his home and from a rented conference room in the Ramada Edmonton South. The CBSA had sent an undercover officer into the conference room on June 14.

The search warrant application says the officer noted that the room “was organized with collapsible plastic tables, set up in a call centre type of arrangement with several tables placed together in several rows spanning the room.”

The officer said about 16 people worked in the room — all appearing to be of Filipino descent — and each had a laptop and a cellphone.

CBSA officials conducted surveillance of the hotel parking lot, identifying workers by running their licence plates using a police database.

“During this time, five foreign nationals without legal status in Canada were observed parking outside the Ramada Edmonton South and entering the business centre location, and remaining there for much of the day and returned again on subsequent days,” the search warrant application states.

Documents from the Canadian Border Services said there were about 16 people working in the rented room at the South Edmonton Ramada Hotel.

The surveillance, the document states, confirmed statements provided by one of Benito’s clients who had told investigators in an interview that “Benito typically employs a number of foreign nationals who are without status, some of which are waiting for pending humanitarian and compassionate applications.”

A CBSA officer arrested one employee who is alleged to have been in Canada without status since May 20, 2015.

She had unsuccessfully applied for a study permit in October of 2016. Before making the study permit application, the woman, who first came to Canada in December 2009, had been refused three work-permit applications and an application on humanitarian grounds.

The CBSA investigator said she determined the woman lived with three other Filipinos in a house owned by Benito, three doors from the Benito residence.

Alleged study-permit scheme involving loans

The CBSA interviewed several immigrants who allegedly participated in the immigration scheme. Through those interviews, collected documents including bank records, and surveillance operations, a picture emerged of how the CBSA alleged the scheme operated.

Immigrants whose work permits were expiring allegedly learned about Benito and his services from others in the Filipino community or from his many Facebook and YouTube videos that trumpeted his success as an immigration consultant.

One immigrant described meeting Benito at his home in southwest Edmonton that functioned as an office, with a secretary and waiting rooms filled with people.

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A sign in the lobby of Ramada Edmonton South outlines some services provided by Carl Benito’s immigration services. (Charles Rusnell/CBC)

Benito would meet with the client and describe the options for staying in Canada. For one unmarried young woman, Benito allegedly wrote on her client assessment form to go to a dating website — Plenty of Fish — “to find a suitable Canadian candidate to marry her.”

Benito also allegedly counselled immigrants to submit study-permit applications for one of two small private colleges, MaKami College and the Academy of Learning. The programs the immigrants enrolled in did not require a deposit, and “have very minimal requirements for prospective students to receive a letter of acceptance,” the search warrant document states.

To obtain study permits, the applicants had to prove to the Canadian government they had enough money — at least $17,000 — to cover their education and living costs. But many did not have that money.

The CBSA alleges that for a cash fee of $250 to $450, Benito would arrange a short-term loan. It is alleged Benito counselled his clients to open an account at a TD bank. The documents don’t explain why he allegedly directed them to TD.

‘Proof of funds’

In some cases, Benito’s secretary drove the client to the bank “and a large sum of money was transferred into their account at which point they acquired an account statement from the bank as proof of funds,” the search warrant application states.

“They would then proceed to another TD bank branch and the secretary would assist in transferring the money into another foreign national’s account for their statement, or back to the source.”

Of the five foreign nationals interviewed by CBSA officials, three said “Benito arranged for money to be transferred into their bank account for a very short period of time and have provided a copy of their TD bank account deposit history showing a $17,000 transfer into and out of their accounts to comply with the study permit application requirements.”

Both the CBSA and the Public Prosecution Service declined to comment on the case, says CBC News. It is not known what happened to the clients who participated in the alleged scheme.

Alfred ‘Fred’ Arrojado charged in Winnipeg of immigration fraud

Alfred ‘Fred’ Arrojado

Meanwhile, in Winnipeg, Manitoba,prominent community leader Alfred ‘Fred’ Arrojado is awaiting a court decision into charges of immigration fraud.

Arrojado was charged on Nov. 24, 2017 with three offences related to charging immigration consulting fees without a licence.

The 66-year-old is the past president of the Philippine Association of Manitoba, a former commissioner with the Manitoba Human Rights Commission and also ran for the provincial Progressive Conservatives in The Maples in 1995.

CBC News reported that Arrojado received approximately $91,000 in payments from people trying to migrate to Canada, with fees of up to 3,500 dollars per client.

Arrojado’s last court appearance was on January 22, 2018.