Client says he's out $30K after investing in business on advice of Winnipeg immigration lawyer
Man alleges Paul Hesse took his money, stopped returning his phone calls
A client of Winnipeg immigration lawyer Paul Hesse says he is out a $30,000 business investment and his immigration status is in flux, after learning Hesse is under investigation and has been terminated from his job.
"I'm in the middle of nowhere," said a man CBC News is calling Jordan, who is still unsure if his immigration papers were ever filed.
The CBC has agreed not to name the man, as he is afraid that speaking out could impact his future immigration applications.
Hesse is under investigation by the Law Society of Manitoba for allegedly advising clients to invest in businesses owned by his former romantic partner, Patrick Maxwell.
Hesse was a partner at the Winnipeg firm Pitblado Law. The firm and its managing partner, Benjamin Hecht, terminated Hesse's employment on June 7, after learning about the allegations.
Hesse, a former president of the Manitoba Liberal Party, joined Pitblado in August 2011 and became a partner in January 2014.
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Neither Maxwell or Hesse have responded to multiple attempts made by CBC News to contact them.
$100K investment recommended
Jordan's experience with Hesse began three years ago, when he visited Winnipeg. During his initial visit to the city, a handful of business professionals recommended the services of Hesse, saying Hesse would be able to help Jordan immigrate to Manitoba.
After scheduling a meeting and going in person to visit Hesse at the firm's downtown location, Jordan was immediately informed by the lawyer that if he invested $100,000 through the Manitoba Nominee Program, he'd likely get a work permit and could move to Winnipeg.
Jordan and a friend both expressed an interest in coming to Winnipeg, and he says he was impressed with the lawyer during their meeting.
"He's very professional…. Pitblado, once you go there, it's a really big law firm," he said in an interview with CBC News.
Jordan returned home, believing Hesse had started putting together his immigration documents.
A couple of months later, though, his immigration application was rejected. Hesse advised Jordan to come back to Winnipeg for another visit and that would help kickstart the immigration process.
'Chances of refusal are virtually zero'
Following the second visit, Hesse became harder to contact, as he would often only reply to emails once a month, limiting the updates Jordan could get on his immigration status.
"In December 2018 [he] submitted my proposal to Manitoba's immigration program, which is very, very late… [It was] six months from the date that I prepared all the documentation," he said.
The file was rejected again, this time for a lack of a business plan. Jordan was advised that he could apply again in March 2019.
During that time, Hesse told Jordan that he could invest in a business and would receive a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) — an assessment which ensures that the job of a foreign worker doesn't impact Canadian jobs.
Emails obtained by CBC show that Hesse said he would get Jordan an LMIA if he became an owner-operator with an investment in a numbered Manitoba company operating as Top Tier Accommodations.
According to company records, Maxwell is listed as a director of that company.
"I think the chances of refusal are virtually zero," Hesse wrote in the Feb. 5, 2019, email. "All of my applications under this category are being approved. The owner is willing to make you an offer."
That same day, Hesse sent Jordan a letter stating that in "his professional opinion" the company was in good financial standing.
Hesse told Jordan of contingencies if he was rejected, ensuring him he would get a yearly return of 20 per cent on his deposit.
Jordan eventually agreed to an investment of $30,000 as deposit, with the understanding a further $120,000 would be paid at a later date, according to the email.
A slideshow sent to Jordan by Hesse, obtained by CBC, advertises the investment as a company similar to Airbnb, offering luxurious short-term stays.
A website for the company advertises it as luxurious property offering multiple amenities, concierge service and pet services arranged by White Lotus Pet Spa — a business run by Maxwell which abruptly closed in June.
'I tried to investigate'
While he said he wanted to trust Hesse, Jordan decided to do some digging on his own.
"I tried to investigate about the location of this and tried [to contact them]," he said.
She told me that Paul didn't even submit the file.- Jordan, a former client of Paul Hesse
After reviewing the documents, Jordan was eventually sold on the business and he wired the $30,000 to the Pitblado trust account.
With Hesse's assurances, Jordan quit his job to begin preparing for his life in Canada.
But Hesse, who claimed that the LMIA would arrive in 10 days to a month, didn't reply to Jordan's calls and emails for nearly two months afterward, he said.
The last time the two spoke was June 7, the same day Hesse was terminated from Pitblado.
After the phone conversation, Jordan began trying to email Hesse, but he received "out of office" responses and Hesse's phone was no longer working. He called the number recommended in the email bounceback and was put in touch with the firm's other immigration lawyer.
"She told me that Paul didn't even submit the file," he said.
'Abused his position': managing director
Since then, Jordan has contacted the firm's managing partner. He says one week later, Benjamin Hecht advised him to go to another firm to seek help, because Pitblado was in a conflict of interest.
"I [never] expected that … [in a] professional office in which more than 60 lawyers [work] they wouldn't even call the client," Jordan said. "[They should have told us to] come in and try to explain what is going on."
Hecht understands the frustration Jordan and more than 20 other clients of Hesse are having.
"We know that clients are angry and confused by the allegations surrounding Mr. Hesse — they have every right to be," he said in an email to CBC News.
"Mr. Hesse abused his position and the trust of his clients."
The firm is working with the Manitoba Law Society to find new lawyers for Hesse's clients. That process has been trickier than expected, because Hesse's files were kept off the document-sharing platform used by the firm, Hecht said.
The firm has had to rebuild the files of Hesse's clients by going through his laptop and office.
"This process is ongoing, and we apologize for the challenges that this has caused, including any delays in responding to inquiries from clients," he wrote. "We are committed to using every tool at our disposal to assist impacted clients."
Jordan says he is searching for a new immigration lawyer, and plans to hire a lawyer to pursue action against Hesse.