Fraudulent immigration consultant gets 7-year jail sentence for bilking thousands from clients
Angelina Codina also ordered to pay back $30K to former clients
A Toronto woman convicted of bilking tens of thousands of dollars from multiple clients in a fraudulent immigration scheme over three years was given a seven-year jail term on Tuesday.
Angelina Codina, 60, was found guilty by a jury of five offences under the federal Immigration and Refugee Protection Act in November 2017. Due to time already served in custody, Codina's jail term amounts to five years.
An Ontario Superior Court judge also ordered Codina to pay just over $30,000 to four former clients from whom she took money.
She is planning to appeal the sentence.
Codina was convicted of four counts of advising clients on immigration matters without proper authorization and one count of misrepresenting facts on an immigration application.
The Crown asserted that Codina "deliberately targeted" 10 vulnerable people as a fraudulent immigration consultant between September 2011 and January 2014, making "false promises" that she'd help their relatives immigrate to Canada.
Crown prosecutor Lynda Trefler had asked the Ontario Superior Court to sentence Codina to 11 years in prison and issue a fine of $100,000. The victims would be paid $30,200 each as restitution.
A two-year sentence is the maximum penalty for unlawfully advising people on immigration matters, and three years is the maximum for lying on an immigration application. Due to the seriousness of these offences, the Crown recommended the sentence for each count be served consecutively.
"Codina's behaviour not only affected the victims, but also impacted the immigration system and society at large," Trefler said in February.
She added that Codina profited "substantially" from the crimes and her conduct demonstrated a "continuing pattern" of exploiting vulnerable people.
Codina, who was arrested by the Canada Border Services Agency in May 2014 and represented herself during the trial, has maintained her innocence on all counts.
Codina obtained her Canadian law licence in 1983 and has swindled multiple people in the past.
She was suspended from practising in Ontario after she was convicted of fraud and the falsification of books for stealing $20,000 from the province's legal aid plan in 1997. She was disbarred by the Law Society of Upper Canada in 2002.
Then in 2000, a jury convicted Codina of grand larceny in New York State for practising law without a licence and failing to provide services to 11 paying clients between 1996 and 1999 through her firm called Codina Partners International in New York City.
She was sentenced to an aggregate term of five to 15 years in prison, but was released on parole in November 2009.
Some people thought they were dealing with a lawyer.- Lynda Trefler , Crown attorney
Shortly after, according to an agreed statement of facts in the case, she opened an immigration consulting firm in Toronto called Codina International Consultants.
CBC investigation finds dozens of frustrated clients
A CBC Toronto investigation revealed that dozens of Codina's clients have successfully taken her to small claims court for failing to deliver services they had paid for, but she has not paid up.
The Crown contends she operated a "sophisticated and well-planned scheme" as an unlicensed immigration consultant. This included hiring language consultants to meet with potential clients in their own language in order to gain their trust.
In response, Codina argued she acted only as a conduit between lawyers and immigrants seeking to come to Canada.
But court documents show Codina was responsible for providing counsel directly to clients despite being disbarred in Ontario nine years earlier.
Federal law requires immigration consultants to take out membership with the Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulator Council. The self-regulated body says Codina never registered her practice.
"Some people thought they were dealing with a lawyer," Trefler told the court in February.
Jalil Chitizadeh, a permanent resident of Canada, hired Codina in 2011 to help secure a temporary residence permit for his daughter, Sara, and grandson. Court documents reveal Sara claimed refugee status in Mexico after fleeing Iran "in fear for her life," but sought asylum in Canada to be closer to her family.
"Codina provided advice and not merely information about immigration programs," the verdict read. "The advice was tailored to the particular circumstances of Sara Chitizadeh, rather than being general in nature."
Codina's behaviour not only affected the victims, but also impacted the immigration system and society at large.- Lynda Trefler, Crown attorney
The following year, Sohaila Ahmadi and her husband, Mahjub, paid Codina $11,000 to bring her sister and her family to Canada. They were refugees in Pakistan after fleeing their home in Afghanistan.
Mahjub testified he "lost confidence" in Codina and decided to seek new counsel after discovering "significant" errors in the applications for temporary resident permits for his relatives. "The names were completely wrong," he said.
Nikolaos Mouzos, a Greek citizen, paid Codina $7,500 in 2012 to process his immigration application to be closer to his sister. Superior Court Justice Anne Molloy found some evidence that Codina "personally offered to represent Mr. Mouzos in his immigration proceeding."
With files from Michelle Cheung