Mishandled immigration-fraud complaint against former MLA reveals regulator weakness

The council that regulates immigration consultants in Canada admits it mishandled a 2016 complaint against former Edmonton MLA Carl Benito, who was recently charged for allegedly operating a massive immigration-fraud scheme.

2016 complaint to regulatory council alleged “dozens” of victims of Carl Benito scheme

Former MLA Carl Benito was recently charged for allegedly operating a massive immigration-fraud scheme. (CBC News)

The council that regulates immigration consultants in Canada admits it mishandled a 2016 complaint against former Edmonton MLA Carl Benito, who was recently charged for allegedly operating a massive immigration-fraud scheme.

"Certainly I could agree that mistakes were made," said Michael Huynh of the Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council (ICCRC).

The council's failure to fully investigate the complaint against Benito illustrates, in large part, the difficulty of regulating the booming immigration consultants profession without adequate legislative powers.

But both Huynh, the council's director of professional conduct, and Richard Kurland, an expert in immigration law and policy, said new federal legislation should give the council the authority it needs to properly oversee the country's 5,800 registered immigration consultants. 

"The new powers extend authority deep into the consulting industry," said Kurland, a Vancouver-based immigration lawyer. "The (ICCRC) investigators can now do their job properly, using common-sense practical methods, which were not available until now."

CBC News first reported in August 2018 that Benito, a former Progressive Conservative MLA, was the target of a Canada Border Service Agency (CBSA) investigation. A search-warrant application alleged that for years, Benito — now an immigration consultant — had counselled dozens of Filipino immigrants to improperly extend their stays in Canada through a bogus study-permit loan scheme.

Earlier this month, the CBSA announced it had charged Benito and his son, Charles, with several immigration-fraud offences under the Immigration and Refugee Act. They each also face one Criminal Code charge of mischief.

Federal Court documents, however, reveal that in August 2016 a client of Benito filed a detailed complaint with the ICCRC that contained the same allegations ultimately made by the CBSA. The complainant also alleged there were "dozens" of other victims.

But the council halted its investigation and closed the file after Benito refunded the complainant's money and she declined to provide banking documents supporting her claims. 

Although the council closed its case, Huynh conceded there is nothing in its file that shows it reported Benito's alleged illegal activities to the CBSA. He joined the ICCRC after the file was closed.

Court documents show the CBSA did not begin its own investigation of Benito until more than a year after the ICCRC closed the file. 

The ICCRC reopened its own file in August 2018 after CBC News reported details of the CBSA investigation. In October 2018, the council temporarily suspended the licences of Benito and his son, pending the outcome of the CBSA investigation. The Benitos are appealing the suspension. 

Outside court earlier this month, Benito told CBC News he and his son were looking forward to proving their innocence on the CBSA charges. 

Complaint alleged 'dozens' of victims

Mary Rose Dayto, a Filipino immigrant living in Edmonton, alleges Benito urged her to apply for a study permit because she could not get a work permit through her current employer. To obtain a study permit, Dayto had to prove to the Canadian government she had enough money to cover her education and living costs.

She said she told Benito she didn't have enough money.

"He told me he will lend me money by transferring $17,000 to my bank account and then I can go to the bank for a bank statement," her complaint stated.

"Once it shows that the $17,000 is already in my bank," she wrote, "I will pay him $500 for interest and he will then take out his money."

The CBSA alleges Benito conducted a study-permit loan scheme 90 times for clients.

Dayto alleged Benito told her he would register her at a private Edmonton college, but that she did not have to attend school. She said when she returned to pick up her acceptance letter, Benito asked her to pay $1,170 as a deposit for his $4,500 consulting fee for study permit applications.

Dayto said she eventually asked Benito to refund her deposit because she had been accepted into another college. She said Benito refused.

"I want ICCRC (to) investigate this consultant, as when I went to his office I saw dozens of workers applying for humanitarian status and study permits and he is doing the same trick to them without explaining the ramifications of his advice to the workers," Dayto wrote in her complaint.

Court documents show the ICCRC shared Dayto's complaint with Benito the same day the council received it, before it had even asked Dayto to verify the complaint and provide banking records. Benito denied Dayto's allegation but refunded her $1,170 deposit as a good-will gesture.

Dayto then declined to co-operate further with the ICCRC investigation, so the investigator closed the file and Dayto's allegation that Benito was conducting the same scheme with dozens of other clients was never pursued.  

CBC News could not reach Dayto for comment.

New legislative powers for enforcement

Immigration lawyer Richard Kurland said the council clearly should have continued its investigation. 

"When the evidence discloses more than one case where something has gone wrong, why do you close down the investigation?" he asked. "One case gets closed. What about all those other cases?" 

Huynh, who is a lawyer, admitted the council's investigative mistakes included closing the file prematurely, and providing Dayto's exact allegations to Benito without first gathering more information. 

But he said the council's previous lack of legislative authority meant that for years the council's investigators had been "under a lot of pressure to run a large number of investigations with effectively one hand behind their back."

New federal legislation passed this spring, once proclaimed by the federal government, would give the ICCRC the power to compel testimony and the production of documents, interview third parties, and enter premises for investigative purposes. Huynh said the council also now shares information with the CBSA and other law-enforcement agencies.

"The organization was set up, really, to not be able to conduct these investigations properly," Huynh said.

"The federal government has recognized this deficiency and is now going to set the organization up to succeed and make sure that investigations are handled correctly, and that the public is protected."

If you have any information about this story, or information for another story, please contact us in confidence at cbcinvestigates@cbc.ca.

About the Author

Charles Rusnell, Jennie Russell

Investigative reporters

Jennie Russell and Charles Rusnell are reporters with CBC Investigates, the award-winning investigative unit of CBC Edmonton. Their journalism in the public interest is widely credited with forcing accountability, transparency and democratic change in Alberta. Send tips in confidence to cbcinvestigates@cbc.ca. @charlesrusnell @jennierussell_