GTA Filipinos lose thousands of dollars after remittance company unexpectedly shuts down

More than 20 Filipino families in the GTA are out thousands of dollars after remittance company Mabini Express Inc., in operation for 25 years, unexpectedly closed its doors in January.

Mabini Express Inc. says it's in an 'untenable financial position' and creditors have diverted funds

According to the the Pew Research Centre, Filipinos in Canada send more than $2 billion back home to families in the Philippines every year. (Michelle Lucas)

More than 20 Filipino families in the GTA say they are out thousands of dollars after remittance company Mabini Express Inc. unexpectedly closed its doors in January.

The company, in operation for 25 years, allowed families to send money to relatives in the Philippines. In a statement sent to CBC Toronto, Mabini Express's lawyer said the company is in financial trouble, creditors are diverting funds without its consent and it "deeply regrets" any losses by customers.

Gina Bronola has sent money through Mabini Express, which is located inside the T&T Supermarket at the Promenade Mall in Thornhill, for more than six years. She works as a caregiver in North York and sends a portion of her earnings to her brother.

"He has four children in elementary. So I'm planning to give them capital to start their own business," she said.

In early January, Bronola sent $3,700 back home. She said she often spoke with the business owners, who she described as nice, good people.

When Bronola went to the storefront 10 days later to follow-up on her transaction, she found the business shut down.

This sign is what greeted many customers when they went to Mabini Express to check on their transactions. (Michelle Lucas)

"It's painful, disappointing, frustrating, upsetting ... I don't know the right word to use because I work hard as a live-in caregiver. To be honest, I work 24/7."

Bronola says she makes minimum wage and doesn't want to take a day off because she's caring for a 90-year-old man with a heart problem.

"I'm scared to leave him alone."

Bronola said the money would've made a huge difference for her family.

"I save money for my future. I save some money for my family to help them and this Mabini Express, they just stole it."

'Untenable financial position'

Toronto lawyer Noel Gerry sent CBC Toronto a statement on behalf of Mabini Express, saying the company has nothing more to add.

"Mabini Express has always operated with good intentions and in accordance with the law," the statement reads.

"Unfortunately, it has found itself in an untenable financial position and third party creditors were able to divert funds intended for customer remittances for their own purposes and without the consent of Mabini Express."

The statement goes on to say the company "deeply regrets any loss that may have been suffered by its customers and is working with its legal and accounting professionals to attempt to remedy the situation."

Mabini Express Inc., located inside the T&T Supermarket at the Promenade Mall in Thornhill, shut down unexpectedly in January. (Edgar Guiao)

Customers who tried to place a call to the company reached a voicemail, which told them: "Unfortunately, due to circumstances beyond our control, Mabini Express is no longer able to open for business."

No one from Mabini Express has responded to CBC Toronto's requests for comment.

Hundreds of thousands of dollars lost, community says

Many customers said they trusted Mabini Express with their transactions and feel betrayed by what's happened.

Edgar Guiao, who works at a Scarborough car dealership, organized a Facebook group and meet-up with the community to figure out just how much they've lost.

Guiao tried to send about $14,000 to his brother in the Philippines in December for Christmas presents and financial support for the family.

After a few weeks, he found out his money hadn't arrived.

"Every year on Christmas we always send money ... But this time they just run away with our money."

At the meeting he organized, Guiao said he heard many similar stories. He estimates the community's lost hundreds of thousands of dollars; money meant for medical bills, education and even marriages.

Michelle Lucas said her parents, Manuel and Norma Gaspar, tried to send $10,000 to a relative whose home was damaged in a typhoon. She has launched a small-claims lawsuit on their behalf.

Michelle Lucas says she's already launched a small claims lawsuit on behalf of her parents, Manuel and Norma Gaspar. (Michelle Lucas)

In an email, Lucas said, "my dad, Manuel, is a machine operator for an automotive company, working evening shifts for the extra over-time pay and has damaged his shoulders from decades of repeated work and heavy lifting. My mom, Norma, has been working for a fruit salad company … in a cold freezer for up to 14 hours."

Lucas said she's been working to secure a lawyer for the group as a whole, but hasn't had any luck.

"It's unthinkable that they would be capable of closing without notifying or refunding their customers their money that was entrusted to them," she said.

Investigation started

According to criminal lawyer Robb MacDonald, whose also practised civil law, a lawsuit to retrieve the refunds could be difficult.

At the end of each of the customers' receipts, a note in fine print explains a number of circumstances in which Mabini Express would not be liable for damages.

"The reason why there is fine print is to protect that company," he said. Any lawyer on the case would have to find out if the company shut down under fraudulent circumstances, he said.

If the company can prove they made the wrong investments and had to close their doors, there's nothing fraudulent, MacDonald said, but if there's no good cause, "there's going to be a very strong civil case against it."

Customers of Mabini Express have also brought their stories to York Regional Police.

Const. Laura Nicolle said they've received more than 20 reports about the company since Jan. 22, and their Financial Crimes Unit has begun an investigation. As of Thursday, no charges had been laid.

About the Author

Taylor Simmons

Associate Producer, CBC Toronto

Taylor Simmons works in all areas of the CBC Toronto newsroom, from writing for the website to producing TV and radio stories. Taylor grew up in Mississauga, Ont. and studied journalism at Western University. You can reach her at taylor.simmons@cbc.ca.

With files from Morgan Dunlop and Metro Morning