Former Progressive Conservative MLA Carl Benito is heading to trial on several immigration-fraud charges.
Earlier this month, a judge ordered Benito to stand trial after he unsuccessfully sought another adjournment in his case. Benito has chosen to proceed with a jury trial, but no date has been set yet. He declined comment when approached by a CBC News reporter.
In declining Benito's adjournment request, Provincial Court Judge Rhonda Tibbitt noted that the matter has been languishing in docket court since September.
"I am going to direct that it be set down," Tibbitt said, estimating the trial will be a "potentially lengthy matter."
Benito had previously been granted four adjournments, two of which were due to his failure to retain legal counsel.
Most recently, he said the Crown had provided electronic disclosure of thousands of pages of documents to his lawyer but had not provided him with paper copies. Benito said he was not computer literate and told the court it would be too expensive to view the disclosure on a computer at his lawyer's office.
Alleged study-permit fraud scheme
Benito, now an immigration consultant, and his son, Charles, both face several counts under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act of unauthorized employment of a foreign national. The charges follow a year-long investigation by the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA).
The Benitos each also face one Criminal Code charge of mischief. Carl Benito faces further charges related to the misrepresentation of facts in immigration matters, including one count — representing an alleged 90 instances — of counselling or abetting the misrepresentation of facts in immigration matters allegedly related to a study-permit fraud scheme.
Charles Benito is scheduled to appear in court later this month.
In a September 2019 news release, the CBSA alleged the Benitos employed unauthorized foreign nationals at their companies — Triple Maple Leaf Canada Corp., Helping Migrants Canadian Immigration Corp. and World Immigration Group Corp. — between November 2015 and October 2016. The companies are specifically named in the charges.
"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 CBSA 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."
Money returned after CBSA raid
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.
Benito, his son, and their companies successfully challenged the ongoing detention of the money by the CBSA. In a ruling issued a year ago, a judge said the Crown had not alleged the money was the proceeds of crime.
"There are comments in the (court-filed) materials that the (Benito immigration) business was a cash-based business and that exorbitant fees were charged," the judge wrote. "That does not provide a basis to order that the money be detained further for the purpose of the 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, 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 alleged the clients didn't attend school but may have worked up to 20 hours a week, as allowed under their permits.
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.
Benito served as a Progressive Conservative MLA for Edmonton-Mill Woods from 2008 to 2012.
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With files from the CBC's Janice Johnston