Windsor immigration counsellor Sam Burgio must pay client $3,125
By Frances Willick
The Windsor Star
July 14, 2010 8:41 AM
WINDSOR, Ont.—A Windsor immigration counsellor who is facing 11 criminal fraud charges was ordered to pay a former client $3,125 in small claims court Tuesday.
The civil proceedings were the latest in a long string of small claims cases filed against Francesco Salvatore (Sam) Burgio or his company, Burgio and Associates.
The lawsuit filed by Ning Li dates back to 2004, when the 23-year-old University of Windsor student hired Burgio to help her get a work permit and permanent resident status. Over three years, Li, who is originally from China, paid Burgio $6,250 for his services.
The lawsuit claims that when her application for permanent resident status was turned down, Burgio failed to file an appeal before the government's deadline and that he refused to refund her money despite a contractual agreement to do so.
Li's statement of claim said she “suffered severe emotional and financial distress” during her dealings with Burgio. Since she continued to be considered a foreign student at the university, she was required to pay higher tuition fees.
Li's legal representative, Charissa Cobbler, called the young student “vulnerable” and said Li had no recourse other than small claims court to recoup her money and seek justice. Since Burgio is neither a lawyer nor a licensed immigration consultant, he isn't held accountable to the professional standards of the Law Society of Upper Canada or the Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants.
Burgio admitted his company missed the deadline to file an appeal, blaming the delay on personnel problems and his preoccupation with his ailing mother's health.
But Burgio's lawyer, Jim Renaud, said Burgio wasn't required to refund the fees. The initial contract obligated him to provide a refund if Li's applications failed for any reason other than medical grounds, criminality, misrepresentation or voluntary withdrawal.
Renaud argued Li had misrepresented her employment status on several documents, claiming she was working as an electrical engineer when she was actually employed in Windsor as a secretary.
Deputy Judge Peter Jay Kuker said he was “really troubled” by the case.
In announcing his decision, Kuker said Li and Burgio were complicit in misrepresenting her employment status to Immigration Canada.
“It was quite disturbing how this whole scenario played out,” he said.
Kuker reduced the damages he awarded Li to $3,125 from the original claim of $6,250 to reflect Li's role in the misrepresentation.
Cobbler said she was pleased with Kuker's decision. “This case was not just about money, but it was also about the pursuit and access to justice.”
Burgio will appear in criminal court later this month to face nine charges of fraud under $5,000 and two charges of fraud over $5,000.
Ten of the fraud charges, ranging in amounts from $1,300 to $6,000, relate to his alleged failure to provide services in exchange for fees or for failing to submit clients' money to Citizenship and Immigration Canada or Windsor Social Services.