Edmonton

Former Alberta MLA Carl Benito and son charged with immigration fraud

Former Alberta Progressive Conservative MLA Carl Benito and his son Charles are facing immigration fraud charges following a year-long investigation by the Canada Border Services Agency.

Canada Border Services Agency alleges study permit scheme, hiring of illegal immigrants

Former Alberta Conservative MLA Carl Benito and his son Charles now face nine charges each of unauthorized employment of foreign nationals following a year-long investigation by the Canada Border Services Agency. (CBC News)

Former Alberta Progressive Conservative MLA Carl Benito and his son Charles are facing immigration fraud charges following a year-long investigation by the Canada Border Services Agency.

The Benitos both face several counts under the under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act of unauthorized employment of a foreign national. 

They each also face one Criminal Code charge of mischief.

Carl Benito is further charged with two counts of counselling or knowingly abetting two individuals to work in Canada without authorization.

He also faces one count, that represents 90 instances, of counselling or abetting misrepresentation of facts in immigration matters the CBSA say were linked to an alleged study-permit loan scheme. 

Finally, he faces one charge of misrepresenting or withholding facts related to an immigration matter. 

The CBSA, in a news release issued Tuesday, allege the Benitos employed unauthorized foreign nationals at Triple Maple Leaf Canada Corp., Helping Migrants Canadian Immigration Corp. and World Immigration Group Corp. between November 2015 and October 2016.

"As licensed immigration consultants, Mr. [Carl] Benito and Mr. Charles Benito counselled temporary foreign workers in Canada to apply for student permits, despite the applicants having no intention of going to school, in order to extend their status and allow them (and their spouses) to work in Canada," the release said.

"The Benitos and their associates facilitated short-term cash loans up to $17,000 for individuals to meet the financial requirement of the study permit application. The alleged offences occurred between November 2015 and June 2018."

As first reported by CBC News, the CBSA raided the Benitos' home and office in June 2018 and seized more than $250,000 in cash, mostly in bundles of $100 bills.

The Benitos are scheduled to make their first court appearance on Sept. 5.

Neither the Benitos nor their lawyer could be reached for comment.

Alleged study-permit loan scheme

Last year, following the CBC News report, the regulatory council that oversees immigration consultants temporarily suspended the licences of Carl and Charles Benito, pending the outcome of the CBSA investigation.

A search warrant application filed by a CBSA investigator in June 2018 detailed how the alleged study-permit loan scheme worked. A months-long investigation allegedly determined 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 immigration 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.

"Within approximately one hour, $17,000 transited through three of Benito's clients' bank accounts" on Jan. 28, 2016, the search warrant states. "On April 21, 2016, within approximately half an hour, $17,000 transited between two of Benito's clients' bank accounts. All five of these clients were applying for study permits."

Five clients were interviewed and found to have misrepresented their study permit applications, "and a further 79 foreign nationals have been identified as obtaining study permits for the Academy of Learning or MaKami College through Benito and his companies but did not attend school."

The CBSA alleged the clients didn't attend school but may have worked up to 20 hours a week, as allowed under their permits.

Bundles of $100 bills seized in raid

The search warrant also alleged Benito illegally employed at least one, and possibly several, fellow Filipino immigrants. CBSA officials conducted surveillance of the parking lot of the Edmonton hotel where Benito rented a conference room for his immigration company, identifying workers by running their licence plates through a police database.

"During this time, five foreign nationals without legal status in Canada were observed parking outside the Ramada Edmonton South and entering the business centre location, and remaining there for much of the day and returned again on subsequent days," the search warrant application states.

In late June 2018, CBSA agents raided Benito's home and his office at the Edmonton hotel. The list of items seized from his house included:

  • More than $185,000 in bundles of $100 bills seized from two floor safes;

  • Bags filled with bundles of $100, $50, and $20 bills, and numerous payment envelopes filled with cash bearing what appears to be the names of clients. In total, more than $70,000 was seized from a cabinet safe;

  • Workers' schedules, payments and employee time sheets;

  • Several computers, tablets and cell phones;

  • Ledgers, receipt books, banking records and dozens of client files.

Benito served as a Progressive Conservative MLA for Edmonton-Mill Woods from 2008 to 2012. His term in politics was marked by controversy.

In August 2010, Benito walked back a campaign promise to donate his entire salary, roughly $75,000 a year, to charity in the form of scholarships. Benito told CTV News his promise had been misunderstood; he had intended to donate one year's pay over time, and had already donated $65,000 to charity.

Later that year, Alberta's ethics commissioner disclosed Benito had failed to pay about $8,000 in property taxes. Benito paid the outstanding taxes, blaming his wife for the oversight.

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

@charlesrusnell @jennierussell

Corrections

  • A news release issued by the Canada Border Services Agency included incorrect information about the charges against the Benitos. The story has been edited to correct that information.
    Sep 06, 2019 10:42 AM MT

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_