A prominent member of Winnipeg's Filipino community, charged with working as an unlicensed immigration consultant, allegedly received approximately $91,000 over the past 10 years from people trying to come to Canada, according to search warrant documents obtained by CBC News.
The documents allege that payments were made through 114 Western Union money transfers to Alfredo (Fred) Arrojado.
Arrojado was charged on Nov. 24 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.
"Regulations stipulate that to provide immigration advice for a fee while not registered with the government-appointed regulatory body is an offence," the court documents read.
The file alleges that Arrojado was "providing advice and actively soliciting foreign nationals to enlist his services for providing assistance and the completion of documents with immigrating to Canada though the Manitoba Provincial Nominee Program for a fee."
The investigation began in January 2015 and a search warrant was executed at Arrojado's home, which is also his office, on April 15, 2016.
At his first court appearance on Monday, Arrojado's lawyer requested more time to get information about the investigation. Court heard there are three boxes of evidence in this case.
The Immigration Consultants of Canada regulatory council confirmed that Arrojado is not licensed to act as an immigration consultant.
The national regulatory body said Arrojado is considered an unauthorized immigration representative or a "ghost consultant."
The court document states Arrojado was licensed at one time with the previous regulatory body, the Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants, but his membership was revoked in 2007 due to a failure to pay membership fees.
The search warrant application alleges Arrojado was working with a woman in the Philippines to recruit new clients. The Canada Border Services Agency obtained numerous emails between the two, including evidence where Arrojado suggests that his business request a retainer fee. Further emails between the two document the collection of fees of up to $3,500 per client.
Winnipeg immigration lawyer Ken Zaifman couldn't speak to the specific allegations, but said he is frequently asked to clean up messes left behind by unlicensed consultants.
"I would say it's a fairly significant problem with [unlicensed] people providing those services," said Zaifman. "They do so because they don't want to go through the process of becoming licensed or they cannot get licensed."
Zaifman said "ghost consultants" typically work with people from their own community because they speak the language. He said they often advertise their services for less than a lawyer or licensed consultant would charge, but added that may not always be true.
"It is a highly romantic notion to think that they are doing this out of the goodness of their hearts," he said. "They're doing it for one reason only — money, to make a profit and to charge clients for money."
He said this week he had a new client come to him for help after their application to the provincial nominee program was refused because a ghost consultant filled it out.
According to the province's website, the province will only recognize or release information to a paid immigration representative who is:
- a lawyer who is a member in good standing of a Canadian provincial or territorial law society; or
- a notary who is a member in good standing of the Chambre des notaires du Quebec; or
- an immigration consultant who is a member in good standing of the Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council (ICCRC).
It also says that using a consultant or lawyer does not guarantee approval.
Joel Duque is a licensed immigration consultant who works primarily with the Filipino community in Manitoba.
"I always say to my clients, 'It's your future, just don't let anyone out there mess with it and don't be a victim,'" he said.
He said he took a year-long online course to become an immigration consultant and then wrote a number of exams, including a language proficiency test, to be certified with the ICCRC. He said he pays around $1,800 a year to maintain his licence.
"As a member we cannot undertake a task or service if we are not fully competent to handle a particular case," he said.
Duque said he has been hearing a lot of stories in the Filipino community lately about ghost consultants offering services for lump sums of money.
"Most people that are rogue agents, the people who are doing this, are well known in the community," he said. "They have a background in the community, [have] done business before in the community, perhaps."
He said he has also tried to fix applications for people who have used an unlicensed agent. He said it can put an application in serious jeopardy.
"Very difficult," said Duque. "It's difficult when you to talk to the client when you have to break the news that there is nothing else you can do."
Arrojado's lawyer declined to comment because the case is before the courts.
His next court date is Jan 22.