Former Edmonton MLA Carl Benito facing suspension of immigration consultant licence
Follows CBC News disclosure of immigration-fraud investigation into Benito
The regulatory council for Canadian immigration consultants is moving to suspend the licence of former Edmonton MLA Carl Benito, following a CBC News report that revealed Benito is the target of an immigration-fraud investigation by the Canada Border Services Agency.
The Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council (ICCRC) is seeking an interim suspension of Benito's licence while it conducts a further investigation that could result in a permanent revocation of his licence.
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The council has notified Benito that it will hold a hearing on Sept. 14 and will determine that same day if his licence will be suspended.
The council's notice of urgent motion for interim suspension, obtained by CBC News, said there are "reasonable grounds to believe that (Benito's) continued registration may result in harm to any member of the public or may undermine the public's confidence in the profession."
Benito did not respond to interview requests from CBC News.
The ICCRC is the national body that, by federal law, regulates all individuals, except lawyers, providing Canadian immigration, citizenship, and international-student advising services. Benito became an immigration consultant after leaving provincial politics in 2012. In his marketing, he touts his time as an MLA and his membership with the council.
Earlier this month, CBC News revealed that Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) had raided Benito's home and office in late June, seizing more than $250,000 in cash — mostly bundles of hundred-dollar bills stashed in two floor safes — as part of an investigation into what the agency alleges was a three-year immigration fraud scheme.
In search-warrant documents, the CBSA alleged that since Nov. 11, 2015, Benito had counselled dozens of fellow Filipino immigrants to improperly extend their stay in Alberta. The agency claimed Benito organized a scheme involving bogus applications for study and work-permit extensions.
Internal policies prevent the ICCRC from discussing details about specific cases that are under investigation. But after reading the CBC News report and learning of the immigration-fraud investigation into Benito, the council agreed to speak generally about its regulatory process.
"In cases where we have received information from a reliable source, such as a government agency, such as the CBSA, and if the nature of the allegations are severe and we feel like there is an ongoing and continuing risk to the public, then we would take measures to restrict the practice of the member immediately, on an urgent basis," said Michael Huynh, director of professional conduct.
An interim suspension is only sought in exceptional circumstances and can only be granted following a preliminary investigation and a decision by an independent tribunal.
Regulatory investigation of Benito continues
Normally, like many self-regulating bodies such as law societies, the council would receive a complaint about a consultant, conduct an investigation, and then, if necessary, refer the case to a disciplinary hearing.
"But in cases where the risk is high to the public, and there is a fear that other consumers of immigration services might be victimized by the immigration consultant, then we would take on these additional measures such as suspending the member right away," Huynh said.
An interim suspension means a consultant can't practise.
The council will continue its investigation into Benito and could move toward a disciplinary hearing that will determine whether he has breached any of the regulations governing immigration consultants.
That process can take anywhere from a few months to a few years, Huynh said, and can be complicated by the immigration status of individuals who may be critical witnesses in a disciplinary hearing.
"Because of the nature of the services members provide — that is, the members of the ICCRC — a lot of the complainants sometimes are of precarious status," Huynh said. "So they might not be willing to, after filing the complaint, testify, in which case it gets a little harder for us to procure the evidence necessary to prove our case."
Huynh said there are also situations where a complainant may have been "complicit" in the immigration consultant's activities, which may make them reluctant to testify for fear of compromising their status.
CBSA alleges bogus applications
The CBSA search-warrant documents detail how Benito's alleged schemes worked. The agency alleges Benito was counselling immigrants whose work permits were expiring to apply for study permits involving two small private Edmonton colleges, knowing his clients had no intention of attending.
The documents reveal this alleged fraud hinged on a scheme in which Benito, or one of his companies, arranged for up to $20,000 to be transferred into his clients' bank accounts, and then transferred out, sometimes almost immediately. This allegedly created false proof that the clients had the necessary funds to support their education and living costs.
The CBSA said it found 79 bogus study-permit applications over about two and a half years.
The agency also claimed Benito counselled immigrants to submit incomplete applications for work permit extensions. Benito allegedly knew the incomplete applications would be refused but also knew it would take three to four months to process them.
"This is being used as a mechanism to buy more time in Canada allowing the applicant to benefit from implied status until the application is decided upon," the CBSA investigator stated in a search-warrant application.
An investigator's analysis of work permits submitted by Benito on behalf of clients between Jan. 1, 2016, and March 29, 2018, found 96 were incomplete.
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