Melissa Holman of the Temporary Foreign Workers Association of Canada faces fraud and theft charges.
CALGARY — When Fusako Kametani uprooted her life in Japan to come to Canada with her daughter three years ago, she never imagined she’d see her life savings evaporate in mere months.
The sense of security she had when she arrived is now gone.
“People look friendly but (they’re) not. I feel like I can’t trust anybody,” she said.
The 55-year-old said she handed over nearly all of her cash and property — worth more than $2 million — to an immigration consultant who convinced the single mother that her assets could be seized, or worse, that she could be deported.
A Calgary woman who leads a non-profit agency that assists newcomers to Canada is now facing multiple counts of fraud.
Melissa Holman, 40, president and founder of the Temporary Foreign Workers Association of Canada, has been charged with five counts of fraud over $5,000 and five counts of theft over $5,000.
Police say the victim was referred to the organization last year to seek immigration advice.
Kametani arrived in Canada on a student visa and had used her savings and inheritance to purchase two houses, one of which was being used as a rental property, say police.
Holman allegedly told the victim that by having properties in her name, she could have her assets seized and also face deportation, said Staff Sgt. Geoff Gawlinski.
“The victim was told you could not work in Canada while on a student visa. But she wasn’t working. She had these houses, one she was living in, one was an investment. You can still invest in Canada. But she was worried these assets could be seized by the government and she could be deported,” he said.
Between June 23 and July 8, 2011, police say the victim legally turned over ownership of the two homes to Holman, one in Signal Hill and the other in Springbank.
Holman is also accused of having penned more than $410,000 in bank drafts from the victim’s bank accounts.
“The victim was giving the money to the accused to hold in trust in a safe manner. If it would be in the accused’s name, then it couldn’t be seized because the accused was a citizen of Canada,” said Gawlinski.
Through civil means, both houses were turned back over to the victim and approximately $90,000 was seized by police and also returned to the victim.
Gawlinski wouldn’t elaborate on where the rest of the money went, but said police noticed “lifestyle changes” and “irregularities” in the accused woman’s bank accounts.
Det. Shawn Goertzen, who investigated the case, said the victim had been trying to seek advice on how to remain in Canada and feels “duped.”
“This woman literally turned over everything she inherited from her family,” added Henry Beaumont, the victim’s lawyer. “We don’t know whether we’re getting it back.”
After a thorough investigation, including consulting with special prosecutors, police arrested Holman last Thursday. She was released with conditions and is scheduled to appear in court Aug. 21.
No other workers with the Temporary Foreign Workers Association of Canada are being directly investigated at this time, said Gawlinski, although “there are still some avenues in this incident that we’re still investigating,” he added.
In the meantime, the organization remains in operation and the staff ardently defend their boss.
“She’s the biggest-heated person,” said one staff member who declined to give her name. “There’s two sides to this story.”
On the association’s website, Holman describes herself as a pianist of 28 years, a master’s graduate in music, a wife and mother of two, and a marketing entrepreneur with a “humanitarian heart.”
In the president’s message online, Holman said many newcomers to Canada are taken advantage of by lawyers, immigration consultants and agencies only to be set up with menial jobs when they arrive.
She said her association, a not-for-profit society, helps all immigrants or foreigners who want to come to Canada to work, study or visit and can help provide legal protection, guidance, government paperwork completion, and other assistance for a one-time fee for two years. “The beauty of this society is putting a stop on all illegal activities,” she wrote.
Reached at her Signal Hill home on Tuesday, Kametani said she feels embarrassed by what happened, but added that she plans to fight to get her money back.
“I’m not OK, but I can still survive.”
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