Four managers of an unregulated company that offered legal services have been convicted of defrauding clients and unlawfully providing immigration advice following a nine-week trial.
Commonwealth Evaluators Ltd in Croydon had falsely claimed to be authorised by the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner (OISC), and later declared – again falsely – that it was operating under the supervision of the Solicitors Regulation Authority.
The prosecution at Croydon Crown Court was brought by OISC also against the company itself.
Commonwealth Evaluators – whose website is still live – described itself as a “legal services company” that was “the industry’s leading experts in nationality and citizenship for Commonwealth migrants”.
It targeted the Caribbean community, running advertisements on television and radio, in community newspapers and at public events in London and Birmingham.
It charged each client £2,000 for immigration advice and submitted Home Office applications on their behalf claiming a right of abode, to which clients were falsely told they had an automatic right as Commonwealth citizens.
However, unknown to them, founder and CEO Swaye Binns himself was an illegal overstayer and the subject of a deportation order resulting from a conviction in 2003 which resulted in a term of imprisonment.
Immigration is the only area of law which is not one of the reserved legal activities but is subject to a standalone regulatory regime that allows non-lawyers to work in it.
OISC started receiving complaints from disgruntled clients whose applications had been refused, later discovering that the company was unauthorised to provide these services as they were not regulated.
One of the managers then applied for registration by OISC, which rejected the application after it was found to contain false information.
OISC traced in excess of 260 clients who had been duped. Many gave evidence as to how they had been deceived into parting with their life savings only to find that their immigration problems were made far worse.
Many have lost vital documents which has caused further issues as Commonwealth Evaluators refused to return them until their fees were settled in full.
Sentencing, Her Honour Judge Smaller said: “You have been convicted on the clearest evidence of fraud. Commonwealth Evaluators was a professional-looking company with an impressive-looking website. That is not a compliment. It outlines the sophisticated nature of the fraud.
“I have no doubt that clients of the company were under the impression that they were receiving the services of lawyers. Your company was not qualified from the outset and you knew that.
“It is clear that you portrayed yourselves as dedicated to serving your Jamaican community. In fact you caused a great disservice to those in your community and others besides. Immigration firms have to be regulated because they deal with the most vulnerable in society.”
She told Mr Binns that his dishonesty was “a self-aggrandising fantasy”, continuing: “You are arrogant, grandiose, self-interested, blinkered and greedy. When challenged about your behaviour you have reacted with further dishonesty.
“Whether you thought you were helping anyone I am unsure but you were really interested in the money. I am satisfied that you are dishonest through and through. This is serious offending over a sustained period of time with a high impact on vulnerable victims.”
Swaye Binns, 39, was sentenced to four years in prison, disqualified from holding any directorship for five years and a criminal behaviour order banning him from working in the field of immigration indefinitely.
At the conclusion of his prison sentence, the deportation order will be activated.
His twin brother, Sheldon Binns, was sentenced to 10 months’ imprisonment, suspended for 14 months, and 150 hours of unpaid work.
Tara Robinson, 33, Swaye Binns’ partner who was employed as a manager responsible for the day-to-day running of the business, was sentenced to 20 months’ imprisonment, suspended for two years, and 280 hours of unpaid work.
Donald Hill, 37, a friend of Swaye Binns and the finance director, was sentenced to a community service order of 100 hours and disqualified from holding any directorship for a year.
In addition, Donald Hill was ordered to pay compensation of £1,000, and Sheldon Binns and Tara Robinson £700.
Commonwealth Evaluators was fined a notional £100 and will be struck off from the Companies Register.