US hunts drug kingpin known as ‘Rolex’ as tonnes of cocaine seized, associates arrested

‘This drug ring has spread death and misery across the Americas and to other parts of the world’

Mexican drug fugitive Angel Humberto Chavez-Gastelum. Photo: AP

Mexican drug fugitive Angel Humberto Chavez-Gastelum. Photo: AP

They found the cocaine in submarines, in speedboats stopped in the Pacific Ocean, in a private jet that crashed into the Caribbean Sea and, perhaps most strangely, in frozen cubes of orange juice transported in trucks.

Officials in Mexico, Colombia and Los Angeles seized 3,500 kilograms (7,700 pounds) of cocaine and other drugs worth over US$500 million as part of a four-year investigation into a global drug ring, according to the US Department of Justice.

On Friday, one of the leaders behind the drug operation was arraigned in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom after being extradited from Colombia. Victor Hugo Cuellar-Silva arrived Thursday night at Los Angeles International Airport.

According to a federal indictment, Cuellar-Silva is the head of the Colombia base for the organisation and is responsible for obtaining tonnes of cocaine and other drugs from South American labs and coordinating transport their for sale in the US and elsewhere.

Six California residents were arrested in their homes Thursday on suspicion of operating stash houses and transporting the drugs in cars to be sold, federal prosecutor Alexander Schwab said.

Those arrested were Hugo Atienzo, 55, of Azusa; Juan Antonio Brizuela, 29, of Lompoc; Richard Dennis, 54, of Studio City; Gerardo Mojarro, 42, of South Gate; Jesus Manuel Monrreal, 33, of Van Nuys; and Jonathan Zamora, 28, of Cerritos.

Amparo Yokasta Melo Peguero, 44, was arrested as she was preparing to take an international flight from Boston.

Six additional defendants are pending extradition after they were taken into custody in Colombia and Thailand.

“What we’ve been able to accomplish is indict an international drug trafficking organisation and … uproot the leadership responsible for aggregating and transporting multi-tonne loads of cocaine,” federal prosecutor Benjamin Barron said.

“It’s among the largest drug cases we’ve ever prosecuted out of our Los Angeles district.”

One major piece of the puzzle is missing: the Mexican kingpin running the whole ring, Angel Humberto Chavez-Gastelum, who is listed in the indictment. He is also known by aliases such as “Don Angel”, “Rolex” and “Netflix.”

“We are still very much on the hunt for him,” federal prosecutor Ryan Weinstein said.

Chavez-Gastelum has made millions by taking the drug operation into his own hands, Barron said, and has ordered the murders of several people who stole from him or cooperated with law enforcement officials.

The indictment includes two murders for which Chavez-Gastelum is suspected of being responsible. One victim’s torture and dismemberment was captured on a video obtained by officials.

Chavez-Gastelum is one of the world’s 30 most-wanted drug traffickers and commands multiple top representatives of the drug organisation, including Cuellar-Silva, according to a Justice Department statement.

If apprehended and convicted of taking part in a continuing criminal enterprise, Chavez-Gastelum would face a mandatory life sentence because he is accused of being its leader.

Cuellar-Silva and three others – including Chavez-Gastelum’s 27-year-old son, who is accused of running the criminal enterprise – would face mandatory minimum sentences of 20 years in prison if they are found guilty.

In 2016, two other drug kingpins were extradited from Colombia and are awaiting sentencing.

“This drug ring has spread death and misery across the Americas and to other parts of the world, which makes this case among the most significant drug trafficking cases ever brought in this district,” US Attorney Nick Hanna said in a statement.

“We are deeply grateful to the government of Colombia for helping us bring one of the key defendants to justice.”

HOW CANADIAN IMMIGRATION FRAUD SAW 860 RICH CHINESE BLACKLISTED

How policymakers ignored alarm bells for years about a systemic flaw in the world’s biggest wealth migration system

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On the morning of October 17, 2012, Canadian border agents began their raids simultaneously, targeting offices in downtown Vancouver and nearby Richmond, as well as a large house on a busy arterial road.

They seized 90 crates of documents and 18 computers, stacks of supposedly “lost” Chinese passports, even a handful of red rubber stamps. There was so much evidence it would take more than a year to translate and organise.

The vast haul, seized from unlicensed immigration consultant Xun “Sunny” Wang, would send shock waves through the lucrative arena of millionaire migration, and in 2015 sent Wang to prison, for scams that had earned him C$10 million (US$7.6million). Sentenced to seven years’ jail, Wang was paroled late last year, having served a third of his time.

But an investigation by the South China Morning Post – based on dozens of court and immigration hearings, as well as on interviews with lawyers, tax auditors, officials and industry veterans – shows that the scandal of the biggest immigration fraud in Canadian history is far from over.

And the story began years before officers pulled up outside Wang’s home.

Canada’s border authority told the Post at least 860 clients of Wang’s firms, New Can Consultants and Wellong International Investments, had already either lost immigration status – resulting in expulsion and five-year bans from entering the country – or been reported for inadmissibility.

Resolved cases reveal the privileged lives of the Chinese millionaires whose presence in Canada Wang fabricated with fake addresses and jobs, allowing them to maintain permanent residency or obtain citizenship when, in fact, they lived most of the time in China.

BY THEIR VERY NATURE, THESE ARE INDIVIDUALS WHO ARE NOT INCLINED TO STAY IN CANADA. THEY HAVE LIVES AND BUSINESSES IN CHINA

Lawyer for one of Sunny Wang’s ex-clients

Yet there had been warning signs for years about the endemic failures in Canada’s wealth migration system that allowed Wang’s scam to flourish.

The little-remembered case of the disgraced immigration lawyer Martin Sheldon Pilzmaker rocked Canadian legal circles in the late 1980s.

It featured a cast of foreign millionaires and a rule-breaking advocate who would fix their immigration woes, as he cruised Toronto’s Bay Street in a chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royce. His tactics and his Hong Kong clients’ motives offered a near-perfect template for the Wang case.

Instead of jail, Pilzmaker’s adventures in the world of wealth migration ended 27 years ago with his suicide in a cheap hotel.

The implications of his lurid case would go ignored by policymakers for decades, as waves of wealthy newcomers helped Canada dominate the global millionaire migration industry and reshaped parts of the country, particularly the west coast city of Vancouver.

The fraud employed in the Wang case “is old hat” said one 30-year veteran of the industry, pointing to the Pilzmaker scandal. “It’s been going on ever since we’ve had business immigration.”

He and other insiders said both cases exposed the foundation flaw in the premise of millionaire migration: the widespread unwillingness of breadwinners in such households to actually live and pay tax in Canada. Their observations are also backed by years of tax and immigration statistics.

“What’s the main reason [for the Wang case]? Well, it’s the fiction that wealthy immigrants are going to come here and do a lot of business here … Wealthy immigrants have no interest in that. They want to park their wives and kids here.”

Former unlicensed immigration consultant Xun “Sunny” Wang is seen in a photo taken by Radio-Canada's investigative programme ‘Enquête’ as he was leaving his home in Richmond, British Columbia. Wang, who was freed from prison in late 2017, refused to answer Radio-Canada’s questions; nor did he respond to a written request for a response left by the ‘South China Morning Post’ at his home. Photo: Harold Dupuis/Radio-Canada

Former unlicensed immigration consultant Xun “Sunny” Wang is seen in a photo taken by Radio-Canada's investigative programme ‘Enquête’ as he was leaving his home in Richmond, British Columbia. Wang, who was freed from prison in late 2017, refused to answer Radio-Canada’s questions; nor did he respond to a written request for a response left by the ‘South China Morning Post’ at his home. Photo: Harold Dupuis/Radio-Canada

Among Wang’s ex-clients, case after case tells that very story – salted with various eye-popping details.

There is the wealthy Beijing lawyer and his family who returned to China just 10 days after activating permanent residency in Vancouver. There is the investor with five homes in Canada, who still lived in the mainland because he claimed Chinese custom required him to mourn his dead mother in her home village for three years.

There is the millionaire who declared his entire worldwide income as C$720 in Canadian childcare benefits, but who sent his student daughter C$61,000 to buy a Mercedes-Benz in Vancouver that year.

Chinese birth tourism: Canada’s Conservatives seek to bar citizenship

New cases continue to emerge, as Wang’s 1,600-plus clients are checked off against a list when they arrive at Canadian airports, according to a lawyer for one.

“By their very nature, these are individuals who are not inclined to stay in Canada,” said the lawyer, who declined to be identified. “They have lives and businesses in China.”

The rise and fall of Martin Pilzmaker

An open packet of cigarettes sat on a window ledge outside the front door of Wang’s house in south Richmond – the same property where at least 20 of his clients once fraudulently claimed to reside.

The home, built in 1990 in gauche Palladian style, looks dated now with its five-metre columns and salmon paint. It is nevertheless worth C$1.5 million.

When the Post knocked on a recent Sunday, the curtains flickered and someone peeped outside. But no one came to the door. A written request for Wang to contact the Post went unanswered, although he was recently spotted leaving the home by broadcaster Radio-Canada.

The home of the former unlicensed immigration consultant Xun ‘Sunny’ Wang, in Richmond, British Columbia. Since being freed from prison, Wang has returned to the $1.5 million home that was among locations raided by Canadian border officers on October 17, 2012.

The home of the former unlicensed immigration consultant Xun ‘Sunny’ Wang, in Richmond, British Columbia. Since being freed from prison, Wang has returned to the $1.5 million home that was among locations raided by Canadian border officers on October 17, 2012.

For Wang, his return to the scene of the 2012 raid brings him full-circle.

There would be no such closure for Martin Pilzmaker.

David Lesperance, a former border officer at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport, had just started out in his new career as an immigration lawyer when the scandal was hitting headlines.

It was the talk of the industry – one day in the early 1990s, a wealthy Hong Kong immigrant turned up at Lesperance’s office, asking if anyone knew how to find Pilzmaker, from whom he expected delivery of a Canadian passport. It was left to Lesperance to deliver the double blow that Pilzmaker was dead, and it was unlikely the immigrant would be getting his passport any time soon.

As Lesperance digested the case: “Things that I was seeing when I was a border official all of a sudden started to make sense.”

Pilzmaker had been called to the bar in 1977, but his story really begins with the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration on Hong Kong, sealing the territory’s return to Chinese rule in 1997 and triggering a rush for foreign passports that would make Pilzmaker rich.

Pilzmaker was one of the first to recognize the lucrative potential of millionaire migration out of Hong Kong. His solo practice was booming when he set his sights on a partnership with a Bay Street firm in Toronto, the top tier of Canadian legaldom.

Immigration lawyer Martin Pilzmaker is freed on C$75,000 bail in Toronto on July 6, 1989. Pilzmaker, charged with more than 50 immigration-related offences, committed suicide on April 19, 1991, two weeks before his trial was due to begin. Photo: Getty Images

Immigration lawyer Martin Pilzmaker is freed on C$75,000 bail in Toronto on July 6, 1989. Pilzmaker, charged with more than 50 immigration-related offences, committed suicide on April 19, 1991, two weeks before his trial was due to begin. Photo: Getty Images

Rhodes scholar Philip Slayton recalled Pilzmaker applying for a job at Blake Cassels & Graydon, where Slayton worked. His demands “were hard to swallow”, Slayton wrote in his book Lawyers Gone Bad, in which he described Pilzmaker wearing a C$20,000 fur coat.

“Pilzmaker wanted an immediate partnership, a big share of the profits, and a corner office. Blakes … would also have to pay for the chauffeur of his Rolls-Royce Corniche convertible.”

Rejected by Blakes, Pilzmaker was recruited instead by Lang Michener in 1985. He was just 37, but in his first year he received full partnership and an astonishing C$400,000 starting salary – his stablemate at the firm, the future Canadian prime minister Jean Chrétien, had to settle for C$100,000.

The flashy Pilzmaker was an awkward fit at a practice described as the “government in waiting”, so packed was it with Liberal Party elites. But “they were ready to hold their noses and suffer Pilzmaker’s crude conduct for an entry into the teeming Pacific Rim,” wrote investigative reporter Victor Malarek, in an account of the scandal in his 1996 book Gut Instinct.

The new recruit was an immediate success, bringing more than C$1 million in business in his first year, the Toronto Star later reported.

It was too good to be true.

THEY WERE READY TO HOLD THEIR NOSES AND SUFFER PILZMAKER’S CRUDE CONDUCT FOR AN ENTRY INTO THE TEEMING PACIFIC RIM

Victor Malarek, on Martin Pilzmaker’s colleagues at Lang Michener

Pilzmaker clients’ initial preferred pathway was via an entrepreneur immigration scheme. Then in 1986, Canada launched its Immigrant Investor Programme (IIP), in which applicants selected by wealth benchmarks paid for permanent residency via government-approved investment, initially C$150,000.

It was the world’s “first true residence by investment programme”, according to the Global Investor Immigration Council.

The industry exploded, and Canada found itself at the forefront of an immigration gold rush.

By 1996, the federal IIP and its Quebec variant would bring more than 57,000 rich immigrants to Canada, about half from Hong Kong and a further 20,000 from Taiwan.

But Pilzmaker – like Sunny Wang decades later – recognised the flaw in the basis of wealth-determined migration.

Although applicants coveted Canadian citizenship and residency rights as a potential escape route for their families, they were unwilling to actually live, work and pay much tax in Canada.

Pilzmaker offered a solution. He bought three houses in Toronto to help fabricate backstories for his clients. The addresses were used to obtain local driving licences and utility accounts in their names. Bills and other official documents addressed to his clients provided fake proof of residency.

In Business & Professional Ethics for Directors, Executives, & Accountants, by Leonard J Brooks and Paul Dunn, Pilzmaker’s deceptions are fleshed out – becoming a literal textbook case of immigration fraud.

Citing Law Society proceedings, it recounts how Pilzmaker’s juniors confessed in 1986 to Tom Douglas, a senior colleague at Lang Michener, that Pilzmaker “was running a double-passport operation”.

“The scam involved the false reporting of lost Hong Kong passports by his clients, which, in fact, would be kept by Pilzmaker in Canada,” the book recounts, paraphrasing Douglas.

The Cromwell hotel flats on Isabella Street in downtown Toronto, where immigration lawyer Martin Pilzmaker committed suicide on April 19, 1991, two weeks before his trial was due to begin.

The Cromwell hotel flats on Isabella Street in downtown Toronto, where immigration lawyer Martin Pilzmaker committed suicide on April 19, 1991, two weeks before his trial was due to begin.

“On their replacement passports, the clients could travel in and out of the country at will. When the time came to apply for citizenship … they could supply the original ‘lost’ passports to show few if any absences from Canada.”

On June 8, 1988, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police raided Lang Michener’s First Canada Place offices, seizing files on 149 of Pilzmaker’s clients.

The Law Society found five Lang Michener partners guilty of misconduct in 1990 for their handling of their rogue colleague.

As for Pilzmaker, he was charged with more than 50 immigration offences in July 1989, then disbarred on January 25, 1990, and declared “ungovernable”.

Fifteen months later, freed on C$75,000 bail, and with his criminal trial scheduled to begin in a fortnight, Pilzmaker checked into The Cromwell hotel flats on Isabella Street in downtown Toronto.

There he was found dead, next to two empty pill bottles, on April 19, 1991.

Warning bells and the ‘complete fantasy’ of millionaire migration

In legal circles the recriminations of the “Lang Michener Affair” went on for years, damaging the reputation of Chrétien and others and raising questions about the governance of lawyers.

But for immigration policymakers it was as if the scandal, with its obvious implications for the booming millionaire migration industry, never occurred.

The reluctance of rich immigrants to physically relocate and declare all worldwide income to Canada – Lesperance terms them “ghost immigrants” – seemed almost universal.

“It wasn’t a function of nationality of the immigrants … it was simply the target market,” said Lesperance, describing how the problem was as common among Hongkongers fleeing in the wake of the Tiananmen Square massacre as it was among millionaires from the Middle East after the first Gulf War.

In Vancouver, long favoured as the primary destination of millionaire migrants in Canada, these tendencies would fuel the phenomenon of astronaut families, whose primary breadwinners return to their place of origin. Peer-reviewed research has linked undeclared foreign earnings and immigrant wealth to the chronic detachment of property prices and local incomes in the city, now one of the most unaffordable in the world.

Obscuring this tendency of his clients to live in China – while claiming residency in Canada – formed the entire basis of Sunny Wang’s services.

Vancouver, seen from near City Hall, has long been the most popular destination for wealthy foreign-earning immigrants, whose role in boosting property prices has been attested to by peer-reviewed research. The Chinese millionaire clients of unlicensed immigration consultant Xun “Sunny” Wang were among those who flocked to the city, though many breadwinners returned to China, while buying real estate and leaving families behind in Vancouver

Vancouver, seen from near City Hall, has long been the most popular destination for wealthy foreign-earning immigrants, whose role in boosting property prices has been attested to by peer-reviewed research. The Chinese millionaire clients of unlicensed immigration consultant Xun “Sunny” Wang were among those who flocked to the city, though many breadwinners returned to China, while buying real estate and leaving families behind in Vancouver

One client, investor migrant Xi Wen Dai, 61, repeatedly described Canada as home as he fought an exclusion order. But he had spent just 33 days in Canada in the five years prior to his appeal, which was rejected by the Immigration and Refugee Board in April 2017. “China is and always has been his home,” said IRB panellist George Pemberton.

Xi claimed his lengthy absences from Canada were due to a tradition demanding three years of mourning the death of his mother – in her Chinese home village. That “is beyond the norm of what I can reasonably take notice of as cultural practice”, Pemberton said.

In 1991, soon after Pilzmaker’s death, Lesperance testified in Ottawa to a parliamentary subcommittee on immigration, laying out the quandary posed by ghost immigrants. But the parliamentarians, he said, subscribed to the image that rich immigrants wanted to come to Canada to “rub shoulders with everyone in Canadian Tire and Tim Horton’s”. It was, he said, a “very nice, complete fantasy”.

They were also ignorant, he said, of the situation’s impending scale. “They didn’t see the tidal wave coming,” said Lesperance.

Combined, the entrepreneur and investor schemes would eventually bring about 400,000 rich newcomers to Canada, although the federal IIP and the entrepreneur scheme were shut down in 2014. The QIIP, now priced at $1.2 million in loans to the provincial government, is still scheduled to bring in 1,900 millionaire households each year.

It wasn’t just Lesperance raising concerns.

In 1995, a team of Canada Revenue Agency auditors in greater Vancouver began investigating 200 immigrant investors on a client list obtained from one of the funds that were then linked to the scheme.

“The results were worse than we thought,” said one of the auditors – now retired from the CRA but requiring anonymity because of their current employment. “Even though many of the investors had not even filed income tax returns, not one of the investors that filed tax returns reported any business income, or income from offshore sources such as salary or dividends.

“Only Canadian interest income and government family allowance income was reported. So no taxes were paid, and certainly no worldwide income from persons who supposedly had businesses located overseas.”

Those investigated were mostly in their 40s and 50s – “their prime income earning years”.

The auditors then examined the lifestyles of the 200 migrants and “immediately recognised that many of them had purchased homes in the wealthiest neighbourhoods in various parts of Vancouver”.

Spreadsheets showed the vast disparity between their supposed incomes and the values of their new homes; some of these documents were leaked to the Post in 2016.

A chart that was part of leaked documents provided to the ‘South China Morning Post’ by current and former Canada Revenue Agency auditors in 2016. The 1996 chart depicts the huge disparity in declared incomes among investor immigrants and other buyers of Vancouver-area luxury homes, a part of an analysis by the auditors suggesting widespread tax cheating among the newcomers.

A chart that was part of leaked documents provided to the ‘South China Morning Post’ by current and former Canada Revenue Agency auditors in 2016. The 1996 chart depicts the huge disparity in declared incomes among investor immigrants and other buyers of Vancouver-area luxury homes, a part of an analysis by the auditors suggesting widespread tax cheating among the newcomers.

The results were sent to CRA bosses in the hope of triggering a major investigation of investor migration. “The thought process was that this factual info could shock local senior management and management in Ottawa of the gross misrepresentation of reported income by these very wealthy people,” the retired auditor said.

But few official audits were launched – and those that were resulted in drawn-out court battles with well-financed opponents. Because of the huge manpower required to audit unidentified global income – versus, say, a local Canadian business – tax recovery was minimal compared to the effort.

Auditors were keen to pursue immigrant investors as a matter of law enforcement and principle, but as a revenue raiser, bosses saw the project as a bust.

There was “not enough leadership or recognition of the magnitude of the non-compliance from top management … the screened files got swept under the carpet”.

In hollow vindication, the auditors’ suspicions would eventually be reflected in long-term tax data showing immigrant investors declaring, on average, refugee-level incomes in Canada.

Ten years after admission, a 2014 federal government evaluation showed, average annual income tax being paid by IIP breadwinners was C$1,400 (one-fifth that of the average taxpayer, and one-eighth that of skilled-worker immigrants). Their annual taxable income from all sources peaked at just C$19,500 three years after arrival, then defied the trend of all other immigrant classes by falling sharply, to C$15,800 after 10 years.

The failure for more than 30 years to systematically investigate the suspiciously low incomes endemic to wealth migration remains a source of regret among CRA staff: three current and former auditors helped the Post with its 2016 investigation.

“I spoke recently to a retired CRA real estate appraiser, who said ‘we missed the first wave in the ’90s, then the wave in the 2000s, now we have gone through another wave, and we still have no handle on it’,” said one of them. “You’d think we, or the politicians, would have it figured it by now.”

An associated phenomenon is the chronically low retention rate of IIP and QIIP, another tendency exploited by Wang and Pilzmaker.

Census and immigration data show more than 40 per cent of IIP principal applicants do not live in Canada; the true figure is likely higher, since it excludes people who deceptively claim physical residency. It is, nevertheless, the worst in-Canada retention rate among all immigrant classes.

Even lower are the in-province retention rates for the Quebec IIP. Only 10 per cent of the 58,000 QIIP immigrants still in Canada for the 2016 census were living in Quebec. Most of the rest lived in Vancouver.

A 30-year veteran of the Canadian immigration industry, now retired, said that low retention of millionaire migrants suggested illicit services like those provided by Wang would be commonplace.

“It’s the same pattern that’s been going on for 30 years now,” he said, drawing a direct line between Pilzmaker and Wang, both of whom were “fabricating indicia of presence in Canada when in fact [their clients] were not here”.

“It goes way, way, way back and it’s part of the same phenomenon that we see with Hong Kong and Taiwan and now mainland Chinese – mostly business immigrant – families, where the head of the family has no interest in immigrating to Canada at all. He wants to continue running his business in China, or wherever.”

This was not a specifically Chinese behaviour but was instead typical for the rich, with profitable businesses and high-paying jobs in their country of origin. “They are the ones with the incentive not to actually live in Canada,” the immigration expert said.

One such client of Wang, millionaire businessman Pi Long Sun, had only visited Canada twice since 2012. However, he continued to file his taxes in Canada, listing his entire worldwide income in 2015 as C$720 from Canada’s Universal Child Care Benefit.

“In that year [Wang and wife Ying Wang] paid for their children’s living expenses in Canada, university tuition at the University of British Columbia for [their eldest daughter], private school tuition for their youngest daughter, and C$61,000 cash for a Mercedes-Benz [for their eldest daughter],” said IRB panellist Pemberton, as he denied the couple’s appeal against exclusion last year.

The downside of this general phenomenon was not just the loss of tax revenue, and the compromised integrity of Canadian residency and citizenship, added the retired CRA auditor. “They do not report their income while taking full advantage of our social programmes and boosting the value of real estate,” he said.

Among Wang’s clients, 146 fraudulently claimed Canadian benefits meant for the working poor, investigators say.

These included Xiao Qing Li, who lost an appeal against exclusion in June 2017. She and her husband, a partner in a Beijing law firm, had returned to China to live just 10 days after activating Canadian permanent residency in 2006.

In 2014, Li and the couple’s two sons did indeed move to Canada, where Li claimed benefits based on her status as a low-income worker, in a fake job arranged by Wang.

Her West Vancouver home was valued at more than C$8 million. Other Canadian properties boosted the family’s net equity position to “well over C$10 million”, according the IRB ruling against her.

The legal wreckage left in Wang’s wake

Vancouver immigration lawyer Peter Larlee is busy these days, as he cleans up after Sunny Wang.

He has represented about 50 ex-clients of Wang, about 35 of whom have already lost residency status and been issued five-year exclusion orders. Other cases are pending, while three have been successfully appealed.

“I really feel for my clients because a lot of them were so poorly served by Wang. They were led into a type of behaviour that is not condoned in our society, signing blank forms, leaving it all up to someone else to do,” Larlee said. “But we all tend to fall into that. I mean, if you go into a lawyer’s office you put your trust in someone, and they put their trust in the wrong people.”

He said his clients were “seduced” by the simple solution offered by Wang to their common immigration plight: they failed to spend enough time in Canada to maintain permanent residency (currently, two years within a five-year period).

Like Pilzmaker, Wang’s business model, branded “sinister” by one judge, was to fabricate his clients’ presence in Canada. Travel dates would be changed or added to passports with the help of fake stamps and Chinese forgers. Passports would be reported lost, but instead couriered to Wang for doctoring.

Properties in Calgary and Edmonton as well as Wang’s own Richmond home were used as fake addresses for Wang’s clients, who were given backstories that included official correspondence and jobs with fake businesses. Some were issued payslips that allowed millionaires living in China to claim tax benefits intended for poor Canadians.

“What we can tell you, is that [as of March], over 860 of New Can Consultants Ltd and Wellong International Investments Ltd clients have either lost their status or been reported for inadmissibility under the Immigration and Refugee Act,” said a spokesman for the Canada Border Services Agency. “To date, over 55 of these clients have been removed.”

The CBC has reported that more than 200 others face the potential loss of their Canadian citizenship.

Larlee said he had suspicions about how some immigration consultants were operating in Vancouver before news of the Wang scandal broke.

“I knew that there was at least one consultant who was openly advertising that PR card renewal could be obtained even with long absences. Some [potential clients] asked why I couldn’t do it. I said it wasn’t possible and they should be very cautious.”

A small number of Wang’s customers appear to have had genuine cases to stay in Canada. But the immigration status of many hundreds more has been denied or is in peril.

One Vancouver-based lawyer, who represents several of Wang’s clients and requested anonymity, said: “The notorious astronauts who come over and drop off their families and go back to China … they just don’t stand a chance.”

He was advising such clients to swiftly concede the allegations against them, resulting in a five-year ban from visiting or applying to move to Canada. “You want the penalty period to start as soon as possible,” he explained.

The lawyer said the CBSA was still identifying suspects at Canadian airports, using a “very convenient list” seized from Wang’s home.

“So it was pretty easy to take that list and just create a bunch of red flags for all these individuals … My guy was grabbed just the other day. So they’re still doing it. They’re still catching people as they come in.”

The bid to expand millionaire migration and ‘placate concerns’

Sources such as the Middle East and Taiwan represent large but finite pools of would-be millionaire immigrants. But mainland China’s pool is limitless, practically speaking.

Even as Wang’s clients wend through the legal system, some in Canada’s immigration industry eye that pool hungrily, as they pursue the revival of the federal millionaire migration scheme.

In December 2016, scores of immigration professionals, lawyers, academics and other stakeholders gathered at the Hilton Toronto Airport Hotel. They were there for the Conference Board of Canada’s “Entrepreneur & Investor Immigration Summit”, an event pitched as helping shape the future of business immigration in Canada.

“Launching a new federal immigrant investor programme could draw more foreign capital to Canada to support such key areas as infrastructure, affordable housing, and venture capital,” wrote the board’s Kareem El-Assal, the summit organiser, in a report summarising the event.

Vancouver immigration lawyer Jeffrey Lowe suggested to attendees that a new IIP could require applicants to fund affordable housing with investments of C$1.5 million.

Retention of IIP immigrants had been a pervasive problem, Assal’s report acknowledged, while the board noted in a news release that “a public awareness campaign would also be required to placate concerns regarding the impact of immigrant investors on real estate prices in major cities such as Vancouver”.

Another investor immigration summit is planned by the board in Ottawa this November, by “popular demand”. Guests are slated to include government ministers.

David Lesperance believes the concept of investor migration is not irredeemable, and that the problem of ghost immigrants like those who turned to Wang can be fixed. But his solution is a radical one: abandon physical presence as an immigration requirement entirely, and take a hardline stance on Canadian tax residency instead, bolstering audits and other enforcement.

He agreed that ignoring physical presence was a tough proposal to sell to critics, who would respond “‘well, that’s un-Canadian’, and that’s where the conversation ends”.

“But [instead] you keep doing the same thing, and you expect a different result? That’s madness,” said Lesperance. He derided physical presence rules as a “wish list”. “And people quickly discovered it was not enforceable, so they ignored it.”

Wang and his clients were at least partly enabled by the “incompetence” of border authorities, said one immigration lawyer. “I find it hard to believe that if you use the same address on repeated applications for so long, that no one’s going to notice it,” he said.

But Peter Larlee, his law office inundated by the aftermath of Wang’s activities, described an encounter that highlighted the fundamental mindset problem among many millionaire migrants.

“I met with clients who wanted to renew their permanent resident card and I put it to them like this. I said: ‘Well, I know how you can renew your permanent resident card’,” he recounted.

“And they said, ‘Oh great, please tell me, share with me your wisdom’. I said, ‘Stay in Canada.’

“‘No, that’s preposterous. I can’t do that’. And they jumped out of their chair and they went away. I suspect people like this went to Sunny Wang’s office.”

None of Wang’s clients named in this article, all of whom were approached via their lawyers, would speak on the record.

Ira Einhorn Returns to U.S.

Convicted murderer Ira Einhorn was extradited from France early today and turned over to authorities in Philadelphia where he faces a new trial in the bludgeoning death of his girlfriend.

2778EAB500000578-3035417-image-a-8_1428802630454.jpg

Einhorn, a former hippie and an organizer of the first Earth Day, went on the lam in 1981, shortly before he was set to stand trial for the death of his girlfriend Holly Maddox, who vanished in 1977. Police found her partially mummified corpse stuffed in his steamer trunk 18 months later.

With the help of rich friends, he began a new life in Europe. A Pennsylvania court eventually tried him in absentia, convicted him of murder, and gave him a life sentence in 1993.

He was captured in France in 1997 after authorities got tips sparked by a television program on his case.

Then 57, the fugitive told ABCNEWS correspondent Connie Chung at the the time: "I like living in France. I like the situation here. But I have something hanging over my head, and I will for the rest of my life."

French authorities caught up with him at his country home in Bordeaux, but the French consider trials in absentia an abuse of human rights and a lower court refused to extradite him. Finally, Pennsylvania passed a special law to allow him a new trial and French judges agreed in February of 1999 to send him home.

Einhorn, once known as Philadelphia's foremost radical, then took his case to the French Supreme Court, which turned him down and set the stage for his extradition.

His hopes of staying in France were dashed last week when the European Court of Human Rights dropped a request it made a week earlier for a delay in the extradition.

Einhorn slit his throat last week when he lost his last French appeal, but he was not seriously injured, and the European court determined Thursday in its decision that he was fit to travel.

American Law vs. French Justice

"We agreed to do cartwheels for the French government and ourselves," says Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne Abraham. "We were determined that we would do everything to get Ira back."

Philadelphia lawyers might have been overanxious in the eyes of the French courts, when, in 1993, they took the unusual step of trying Einhorn without having him in custody.

The move gave some comfort to the Maddux family and others who were enraged that Einhorn was able to flee the United States after the court set $40,000 bail, but the conviction may have backfired, and allowed Einhorn another chance at freedom.

"I may have benefited by that, no doubt about that," Einhorn said. "I think it's ironic. Sometimes life works that way."

In January of 1998, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge signed a law allowing Einhorn a new trial.

Fervent Denial

Through it all, Einhorn has maintained his innocence in the death of 30-year-old Holly Maddux, claiming the CIA or KGB framed him after he uncovered classified mind-control experiments.

"As far as I can tell, [it was] one of the large intelligence agencies [that killed her]," he said. "But I don't have the data so that's speculation. When you're in my situation, it is very difficult when you have large forces operating against you to come to any secure conclusion."

Hippie Guru Romances Texas Gal

At the height of his fame, Einhorn ran for mayor, promoting himself as a "planetary enzyme." Some leaders of the Earth Day movement say Einhorn falsely takes credit for being a founder, and exploited the event for self-serving publicity. But others recall him using his charisma to help organize festivities.

As Einhorn recalls it, Maddux was immediately drawn to him when they met in 1972. She was a small-town girl from Texas and he was Philly's foremost radical.

"I was immediately attracted to her," he says. "She had a strange lost quality about her and I was probably collecting lost people at that time."

They moved in together two weeks after they met. But several of her friends recall that it was an abusive relationship, a charge Einhorn vigorously denies.

"She would go to work with a black eye, but also bruises on her neck, bruises on her arms," said Meg Wakeman. "And you have to have the purpose of hurting someone in order to inflict those injuries."

Maddux broke off the relationship a month before she disappeared. Einhorn tracked her down on New York's Fire Island and pleaded with her to come home. "We seemingly were getting along as far as I could say," he said. "And then she left. She disappeared."

The Ceiling Ooze

To Philadelphia police, Maddux was just one more missing person. Weeks passed. But when the Maddux family hired private detectives, Einhorn refused to cooperate. "I didn't like her family in terms of what they did to me," he said. "They had the district attorney call me up and accuse me of stealing her money."

Einhorn was still at the top of his game. The flower-power leader had made the unlikely transition into the world of corporate consulting and was even lecturing at Harvard.

But neighbors in his apartment building told police of a stench that smelled like dead animals, a brown fluid oozing through the ceiling, and that Einhorn stubbornly refused to let workers inside.

"This is like an Alfred Hitchcock story," said Mike Chitwood, a detective who led seven investigators on a search of Einhorn's apartment. With a crowbar, they pried open a padlocked closet and found the trunk.

Chitwood vividly recalls that day. "The first thing I observe is the hand," he said. "And the hand is in a mummified position, almost as though somebody had been put inside there alive and they were trying to push."

Her battered corpse weighed 37 pounds and her skull had been shattered, according to the coroner's report.

'I Made a Decision'

Despite the notoriety, Einhorn still had friends in high places. One by one, prominent Philadelphians took the stand in his support, and Seagram heiress Barbara Bronfman paid his bail.

His lawyers were less optimistic as his trial drew near. The evidence against him was damaging, and all he could offer was a bizarre conspiracy theory he could not prove.

"I felt that I could not get a fair trial, and I felt that I was going to be railroaded," Einhorn said. "So I made a decision."

He fled to Ireland at a time when that country did not have an extradition treaty with the United States. As authorities closed in, a friend lent him identification and he traveled Spain, Britain, and Denmark, meeting his future wife, Annika Flodin, along the way.

They eventually settled in the southwest of France, where they have lived since 1993.

Flodin, who bears some resemblance to Maddux, knew her union with a convicted murderer was risky. But she maintains her man's innocence. "A person like Ira who's intelligent does not leave — if he had killed Holly — her to rot in his apartment," Flodin told Chung. "For God's sake, you take the body and put her somewhere else."

The Maddux family hopes Einhorn will be convicted again in a U.S. courtroom and sentenced to prison, after 24 years of waiting for Holly's killer to be punished.

"It was frustrating, and then it was maddening, and then the first time the French said, 'You know what, we're not going to send him back,' it got painful," Wakeman said.

"It's a nice feeling to know that the facts of the case are being considered," she said. "For a long time, the facts of Holly being murdered and kept in a trunk were out there, but there were still people saying 'Ira's really a good guy.'"

Fugitive who 'faked ties to Elon Musk' faces new investigation

The suspected UK fraudster is now accused of pretending to be an associate of Elon Musk to lure people to invest in Switzerland.

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The extradition to the UK of fugitive Mark Acklom has been blocked because Swiss prosecutors have launched an investigation into new fraud allegations.

If the 45-year-old is charged and convicted in Switzerland, his British trial could be delayed for years.

UK extradition papers were served on the Swiss before this week's 40-day deadline after his arrest near Zurich on 30 June.

But six investors have given police statements alleging that together they lost about £750,000 invested in a company run by Acklom, who posed as a Spaniard named Manuel Conesa Escolar, and so his extradition is on hold.

The company Swiss Disks claimed to be developing a black box data recorder for driverless cars and used a glitzy website with dynamic videos to lure investors, promising huge profits.

Its website also showed images of luxury cars to imply it had the backing of major manufacturers.

According to investor Harald Herbon, a former banker, Acklom was a reclusive figure whose wife told suspicious neighbours he was "the right-hand man" of car technology pioneer Elon Musk and "the real brain" behind Tesla cars.

Acklom allegedly used the alias Marc Long

Acklom allegedly used the alias Marc Long

Mr Herbon said he became chief executive officer of Swiss Disks after investing 400,000 Swiss francs, roughly £400,000.

He never met Acklom, who would always make excuses to miss meetings, and dealt with him by phone only. He admits he should have been more careful.

Mr Herbon said: "He is brilliant in operating with people. He tells you a story and after a few minutes you believe him. The product idea was very good, but all we had to show for our investment was a prototype built in a little garage.

"He promised us billions and said Swiss Disks would be one of the biggest companies within a year. It made sense. He sent me a contract to sign showing that Elon Musk had invested five billion francs."

Acklom is currently in Champ-Dollon prison near Geneva awaiting the outcome of fraud investigations by prosecutors in three Swiss cantons.

The Swiss federal prosecutor's office said: "In the course of Swiss criminal proceedings, the person was handed over to the public prosecutor's office of Canton Geneva on 6 July 2018. The Swiss criminal proceedings has priority over the extradition proceedings."

Acklom was arrested near Zurich on 30 June

Acklom was arrested near Zurich on 30 June

Acklom, who allegedly also used the alias Marc Long, is wanted in the UK on 20 fraud charges after he allegedly stole the life savings of Carolyn Woods, a Gloucestershire woman he promised to marry in 2011.

Mr Herbon said: "A lot of people came forward with complaints to the police and now he is not going to Great Britain. He must pay the price in Switzerland for what he has done here. After that we can send him to the UK where he can get arrested again."

He rented Acklom a luxury lakeside apartment in Wadenswil, where Acklom was arrested in June. He said Acklom paid the first month's rent of 7,500 francs upfront, then promised to set future payments against his company profits.

Mr Herbon said he had started a process to register Swiss Disks as a bankrupt company and said he had no hopes of getting back his investment

The Crown Prosecution Service and Avon and Somerset Police, who investigated Acklom's involvement with Ms Woods, said they did not know what was happening with the extradition request.

Ms Woods told Sky News: "I'm disappointed at the extradition delay, but I'm glad Acklom is still in custody."