The federal council that regulates immigration consultants has temporarily suspended the licences of former Edmonton MLA Carl Benito and one of his sons, as it awaits the outcome of a Canada Border Services investigation of an alleged large-scale immigration fraud.
At a hearing Tuesday, Cindy Ramkissoon-Shears, an independent chairperson of the Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council (ICCRC), determined there were reasonable grounds to conclude that allowing Benito and his son Charles to continue practising as consultants may cause harm to the public and could undermine the reputation of the profession.
The temporary suspensions mean the Benitos must have no further involvement with their clients. They must immediately make arrangements for another consultant or lawyer to assume their clients’ files.
Benito and his son did not respond to interview requests from CBC News on Tuesday.
The ICCRC is the national body that, by federal law, regulates all individuals, except lawyers, providing Canadian immigration, citizenship, and international-student advising services.
The council only seeks an interim suspension in exceptional circumstances, following a preliminary investigation, when it considers allegations so serious that allowing the consultant to continue to practise poses a potential risk to the public.
The hearing Tuesday heard evidence the ICCRC had received three complaints about the Benitos’ immigration consulting practice dating back to 2016.
But the council only began its investigation after it learned from CBC News on Aug. 16 that the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) had raided Benito’s home and office in late June as part of a major immigration fraud investigation.
Bundles of $100 bills seized
Court documents obtained by CBC News revealed the CBSA seized more than $250,000 in cash — mostly bundles of $100 bills stashed in two floor safes — as part of an investigation into what the agency alleges was a three-year immigration fraud scheme. The agency also seized numerous cash-filled payment envelopes bearing what appear to be the names of clients.
In search-warrant documents, the CBSA alleged that since Nov. 11, 2015, Carl Benito had counselled dozens of Filipino immigrants to improperly extend their stay in Alberta. The agency claimed Benito organized a scheme involving bogus applications for study and work-permit extensions.
The CBSA also alleges it found at least one Filipino immigrant, and possibly several more, working illegally for the Benitos’ consulting business.
The ICCRC had previously determined there was sufficient evidence to hold a hearing for interim suspensions against Carl and Charles but there was not enough direct evidence to include a third son, Mark, in the proceedings.
During Tuesday’s hearing, Carl Benito’s lawyer, William Macintosh, argued the information contained in the CBSA search-warrant documents did not constitute sufficient evidence because it was essentially hearsay and, in some cases, double hearsay.
But a lawyer acting for the ICCRC said the information in the search-warrant documents, supplemented by similar information contained in the three previous complaints, created credible and compelling grounds to support the suspension of the Benitos.
“In my submission, there are more than reasonable grounds to believe the Benitos have been running a practice, the modus operandi of which was to perpetuate a fraud against the Canadian government,” lawyer Lisa Freedman told the hearing.
Carl Benito did not speak at Tuesday’s hearing. His son, Charles, who was self represented, told the hearing that he had done nothing wrong and was innocent.
None of the Benitos has been criminally charged and none of the allegations from the search-warrant documents has been proven in court. The CBSA has confirmed its investigation is ongoing.
Council investigation delayed
An ICCRC investigator admitted under questioning by Macintosh that the council’s investigation, and potentially a full disciplinary hearing, can’t continue until after the CBSA concludes its investigation.
The investigator conceded the council is wholly dependent on documents from the CBSA for its investigation, and it could take up to a year for the CBSA to conclude its investigation.
In an August interview, the council’s director of professional conduct told CBC News the investigation process can be complicated by the immigration status of individuals who may be critical witnesses in a disciplinary hearing.
“Because of the nature of the services members provide — that is, the members of the ICCRC — a lot of the complainants sometimes are of precarious status,” Michael Huynh said. “So they might not be willing to, after filing the complaint, testify, in which case it gets a little harder for us to procure the evidence necessary to prove our case.”
Huynh said there are also situations where a complainant may have been “complicit” in the immigration consultant’s activities, which may make them reluctant to testify for fear of compromising their status.
Benito was elected to the Alberta legislature in 2008. He became an immigration consultant after losing the Progressive Conservative nomination in 2012.
On websites and Facebook pages filled with photos of beaming clients, “Kuya Carl” (Brother Carl) claims he can help fellow Filipino immigrants secure residency, study permits, and work permits.
“Carl is simply the best in immigration consulting in Edmonton,” one of his websites reads.
In an article recently published in a local Filipino newspaper, and republished on his immigration firm’s website, Benito claimed he was a victim of “sensationalized” journalism.
“We have several clients who are our direct witnesses on how Triple Maple Leaf Canada and Carl Benito conducts his Consulting Services with utmost transparency and within legal bounds and following the guidelines as set by Immigration Canada,” Benito wrote in the article.
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