Jail for SISO executives in $2.9 million fraud case

SISO ex-executive director Morteza Jafarpour and former finance director Robert Salama were sentenced to two years and 18 months in jail, respectively.

Two SISO executives who defrauded the federal government as heads of a city immigrant settlement service have been sentenced to jail terms.

Morteza Jafarpour, founding member of the Settlement and Immigration Services Organization (SISO) was sentenced to two years while co-accused Robert Salama was sentenced to 18 months. Because Salama has been in prison, during the trial and awaiting sentencing, he will get credit for time served. He will have to serve only one more day.

In sentencing Jafarpour, Justice James Ramsay told him "You do have a future but I'm going I have to put an obstacle in its way."

John Abrams, lawyer for Salama argued in the sentencing hearing that Salama had done enough time in jail. He's been in the Barton Street jail for the past 12 and a half months.

Crown prosecutor James Vincelli recommended Jafarpour get five to six years and Salama get three years plus credit for his time already served.

A hundred and fifty people lost their jobs, Vincelli said.

"The collateral damage is is just as bad as the damage itself," he said.

You do have a future but I'm going I have to put an obstacle in its way.- Justice James Ramsay

 Jafarpour's lawyer Dean Paquette, argued in Monday's sentencing hearing that: "He was not a fraudster in the purest sense of the word. He was operating a legitimate business."

Jafarpour, 54, and former SISO finance director Salama, 41, were found guilty on Sept. 4 with knowingly using forged documents, fraud over $5,000, theft over $5,000 and conspiracy to commit fraud over $5,000, for actions including falsifying invoices, payroll and employee information. The charges follow a 15-month investigation by the RCMP and Hamilton Police.

Packed courtroom

Between 2008 and 2010, the CIC was defrauded of about $2.9 million, according to SISO auditor Anthony DeLuca, who was questioned in court Monday. But Paquette said CIC was able to recover that money over time, and their "actual loss was nonexistent."

Ramasay said in his final statements he was sentencing Jafarpour and Salama for "defrauding the government." He said payrolls were falsified, including Salama's, and SISO charged CIC for more money than was actually needed. Ramsay also said employees were made up and included on the payroll so CIC would provide a larger payout to SISO.

The courtroom was nearly packed Monday for the sentencing with former SISO employees and Jafarpour's family.

SISO, once Hamilton’s largest immigration settlement agency, was established in 1990 as a small, one-stop shop to help assist immigrants navigate the labyrinth of services available to them. The organization grew to employ close to 200 people, and provided support for thousands of newcomers while receiving millions of dollars in government grants.

In his closing statement, Paquette said the evidence established shows Jafarour's motivation is not one of greed but to advance SISO" and help the immigrant and refugee population in Hamilton.

"It's not a scam," he said.

Fall from grace

Jafarpour is an immigrant to Canada, Paquette said. He was born in Iran and studied medicine at the University of Istanbul in Turkey. He has three biological children and two whom he adopted in Turkey after their mother was murdered by their father.

He was imprisoned in Iran for three years in 1982 for being an activist before becoming a refugee claimant to Canada in 1989. He delivered pizzas, Paquette said, before getting involved in the immigrant community and becoming SISO's host program co-ordinator in 1995. He served as executive director from 1998 to November 2010, when the organization declared bankruptcy.

"I came to Canada for a new life. I worked hard, I went to school," he told the courtroom. "I recognize some of my actions or lack of actions contributed to the fall of the organization... I apologize."

Paquette listed off for the courtroom the numerous immigrant organizations Jafarpour has been involved with since arriving in Canada, as well as a list of academic credentials in non-profit leadership and management from Mohawk College, McMaster University and York University's Schulich School of Business.

"He's dedicated himself to immigrants and refugees and has done an enormous amount of good work," Paquette told the courtroom.

"It's an extraordinary fall from grace from great heights to the depths of despair."

Abrams told the court Salama is originally from Egypt and has a commerce degree from a university in Cairo. He and his wife came to Canada in 2001 as refugees and started working for SISO in 2002 as a translator. He divorced his wife in 2006 and took on the accountant role at SISO. Ramsay later told the court he isn't licensed as an accountant in Canada.

In 2009, he became a citizen and married his second wife, a SISO employee. They both lost their jobs when the organization folded in 2010. Salama later took a high-paying job in Nigeria, and returned to Canada to speak to police when their investigation began in 2012. He never returned to his job in Nigeria and has been detained since, said Abrams. His wife also apparently left him and sold their house in Hamilton this summer, he said.


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