Sunday, January 17, 2016

How a B.C. Chinese man pulled off one of the most sophisticated immigration frauds in Canadian history

How a B.C. Chinese man pulled off one of the most sophisticated immigration frauds in Canadian history

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With the citizenship hopes of hundreds of Chinese clients in his hands and the risk of arrest always looming, B.C. immigration consultant Xun “Sunny” Wang had no room for error.
If a date stamp was a bit crooked or a font didn’t quite match up in one of his client’s doctored passports, it was immediately flagged by staff. If a job was time-sensitive, Wang would let his people know in an email: “This passport is more urgent!!!”
Spreadsheets kept track of Canadian addresses and phone numbers used to prepare documents that gave the appearance his clients were living in Canada when they weren’t.
It was a vast, complicated enterprise — one of the most sophisticated immigration frauds authorities said they’d ever seen — and very lucrative. Wang collected some $10 million from about 1,200 clients for his “fraudulent services,” a court would find.
But it all collapsed in late October when the unlicensed consultant was sentenced to seven years in prison, one of the stiffest penalties to be handed down for this type of crime. In the aftermath, hundreds of Wang’s clients faced the possibility of having their immigration statuses revoked or rejected.
“I find the gravity of the offences committed by Mr.Wangto be serious.  His actions served to undermine Canada’s immigrationprocess with the result that the public’s confidence in the process has been damaged,” B.C. Provincial Court Judge Reg Harris said in his decision. 
Wang, a married father of two boys, immigrated to Canada in 1997 and became a citizen three years later.
Though he had a degree in engineering, Wang spent his first couple years in Canada either as a life insurance agent or unemployed.
He then switched to immigration consulting, forming New Can Consultants Ltd., in 2001 and Wellong International Investments Ltd., in 2004.
The companies operated out of nondescript offices in downtown Vancouver and in the nearby suburb of Richmond, where Wang lived. A former business acquaintance described Wang as likeable and relatable — not a suit-and-tie guy.
Wang joined the Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants, then the industry’s governing body. But, by 2006, he had let his membership lapse.
According to court records, Wang learned from his employees different methods of misleading immigration officials and began using those techniques.
At the core of the con was making it appear his clients had spent the requisite number of days in Canada to obtain citizenship or maintain permanent residency when, in fact, they had not.
To pull that off, clients’ passports were shipped to offices in Shanghai and then to the port city of Qingdao, where they would be altered — typically by adding fake exit and entry stamps.
“The stamp instructions were quite explicit, setting out the client’s (applicant’s) name, passport number, which type of stamp was to be added (round for entry into China, square for exit from China), and the dates for each type of stamp,” a CBSA investigator wrote in an affidavit.
Sometimes, passports were couriered directly from Canada to Qingdao. “Let me know right away when you receive,” Wang wrote in a Dec. 2011 email to one of his helpers. “These 2 passports are more urgent, and require precision, so cost is not too much of an issue.”
Back in Canada, Wang and his staff altered residency calculation forms that were supposed to represent how many days a person had been absent from Canada. One client who had been away for 1,099 days between Oct. 15, 2006 and Oct. 15, 2010, for instance, had his file changed so it showed he was away for only 312 days.
Wang used real Canadian addresses and phone numbers on his clients’ application forms to further the impression they were living in Canada. The addresses and phone numbers usually belonged to Wang’s contacts in Calgary and Edmonton, but sometimes he used his own address in Richmond, B.C.
He even created fake letters of employment for his clients, using the names of one of his many companies (NCK Electronics, Pacific Glory Enterprises, Shanghai Hualong Construction and others) that seemingly existed for no other reason than to assist with the con.
Under the scheme, clients essentially paid their own salaries, including income tax deductions and CPP and EI contributions. They would send money to Wang or his businesses. He would then issue them payroll cheques and T4 slips — just like a real employer — and even file tax returns on their behalf.
“The ‘salaries’ paid were sufficiently low that the income tax deducted would be refunded and working income tax benefits were paid to the clients by the (Canada Revenue Agency),” according to an agreed statement of facts.
Wang even went so far as to alter dates of enrolment in school records belonging to his clients’ children.
“It’s staggering someone can do that. It’s very elaborate,” bristled Victor Godin, a licensed immigration consultant in Richmond, B.C.
The work did not come cheap.
According to Wang’s pricing chart, foreign nationals who had spent “sufficient time” in Canada — meaning they spent the required number of days in the country to be eligible for citizenship or permanent residency — would be charged only $100 to $300 to have their applications processed.
Those who had spent “insufficient time” in Canada and were seeking citizenship were charged $8,000 to $15,000, while those renewing permanent residency cards were charged $5,000 to $15,000.
For a time, Wang’s consulting services, which were advertised in Chinese-language newspapers, appeared to thrive.
But it wouldn’t last.
In 2010, Canadian immigration officers in Alberta became suspicious after noticing the same addresses in Edmonton and Calgary kept popping up in dozens of permanent resident renewal applications. Some of the applicants’ names were flagged in a database so that the next time they entered the country, border officers would know to question them.
One applicant who listed an Edmonton address was questioned at the Vancouver International Airport and admitted “he never lived in Edmonton but did vacation there for one week,” according to a summary of that interview.
Another applicant, who had also listed an address in Edmonton, admitted to investigators “she had never lived in Alberta and had never lived in Edmonton. She did not even recognize the name of the province.”
Canada Border Services Agency investigators began to zero in on Wang.
In June 2012, they started a surveillance operation, following him as he drove his Land Rover emblazoned with the licence plate “NEW CAN.”
In an October 2012 application for a warrant to search his home and businesses, CBSA investigator Alison Kainz wrote that 114 people had claimed Wang’s two-storey home in Richmond, B.C., as their home between January 2007 and July 2012.
“I believe that it is unlikely that 114 people lived at a two-storey single family dwelling between 2007 and 2012,” Kainz wrote.
Investigators seized dozens of boxes of documents, 200 Chinese passports and 18 computers. After poring through the evidence, investigators arrested him in October 2014 at his Richmond, B.C. office.
At the moment they moved in, Wang was clutching photocopies of three Chinese passports belonging to the same person that contained cut-and-paste alterations.
“The investigation started with false statements in immigration applications and uncovered fraud in all aspects of the business, from licensing to profits,” said Crown prosecutor Jessica Patterson.
Wang was released on bail on conditions he not possess any passports or immigration-related application forms. Despite these orders, Wang continued to send dozens more application packages, resulting in his re-arrest in June.
He subsequently pleaded guilty to multiple offences, including illegal immigration consulting, fraud and tax evasion. (Wang had failed to report $2.7 million in income from 2007 to 2012, resulting in the evasion of $730,000 in income tax).
“The only available explanation for Mr. Wang’s actions is greed,” Harris, the judge, said as he sentenced Wang to seven years and fined him more than $900,000. “That is, he placed his financial interests above all including the law.”
Wang is appealing his sentence, arguing that it is too harsh, said his lawyer, Ritchie Clark.
Three people who worked under Wang have pleaded guilty to various charges and are due for sentencing March 1.
Border authorities, meanwhile, are presumed to be sorting through which clients knew what was going on and figuring out what repercussions they should face.
The judge noted that Wang’s actions likely led to “numerous” people fraudulently obtaining permanent residency or citizenship.
“I expect the immigration authorities will have to review the circumstances of all those concerned and it is quite likely that some persons will be removed from Canada,” the judge said.
A CBSA spokeswoman refused to say what sort of follow-up action was being taken.
A citizenship and immigration spokeswoman said if individuals were found to have used false documents to obtain citizenship or permanent residency, they could be stripped of their status, have a permanent record of fraud, or be forbidden from entering Canada for at least five years.
Richard Kurland, a Vancouver immigration lawyer, said he suspects many of Wang’s clients could wind up in “immigration limbo” as their files are scrutinized.
“Oftentimes, ‘honest’ applicants are inside the tainted inventory, and the herculean task for the authorities is to identify the ‘good’ applicants. That takes time, and until that is done, the ‘good’ are stuck in bed with the ‘bad,’” he said in an email.
Wang’s lawyer contends all of Wang’s clients were “fully aware” of the rules for residency and “knew what (Wang) was doing” on their behalf.
National Post