The Manitoba Law Society has disbarred Paul Hesse, stating the disgraced immigration lawyer lost over $6 million of his clients’ money through a series of schemes that saw them invest in fake or shell companies under the promise it would help them immigrate to Canada.
Hesse had been under investigation by the law society since July 2019, when several of his former clients came forward to CBC and other media outlets, claiming he had bilked them out of their life savings.
The decision says that over a three-year period, beginning in 2016, Hesse lied to 27 different clients, almost all would-be immigrants, making false promises that cost them thousands of dollars.
“He lied, he stole, he acted in his own self-interest, he gave wrong advice and he abused his position to get his clients to lend him millions of dollars, most of which he never repaid,” the Sept. 16 law society decision says.
“Most of the 27 clients also had their hopes of immigrating to Canada thwarted.”
Last year, one client told CBC he was out $200,000 and his permanent residency application was left in limbo after transferring Hesse money to invest in a company, in order to get a work permit. The permit never materialized and Hesse told him the money was gone.
The Law Society found Hesse guilty of 29 counts of professional misconduct through these schemes that included:
- Advising clients to invest money in a business without disclosing his personal relationship to its owner.
- Putting clients’ money into investments without authorization.
- Lying to clients about their immigration status so he wouldn’t have to pay back money.
- Advising clients to invest in shell companies.
- Lying to clients so they would lend him money.
- Telling clients investments would qualify them for immigration, when they were in fact “sham investments.”
“In the end, Mr. Hesse stole $3.5 million from clients and fraudulently obtained more than $3 million through lies and deceit,” said the decision.
“Most of the clients he wronged were vulnerable in that they would not have had English as their first language and they may not have had a good understanding of the Canadian legal system.”
Pitblado lawyer ‘appalled’ by actions
At the time of the misconduct, Hesse, who was also once the president of the Manitoba Liberal Party, was a partner at the Winnipeg firm Pitblado Law.
The firm and its managing partner, Benjamin Hecht, terminated Hesse’s employment on June 7, 2019, after learning about the allegations.
Hesse currently faces several civil lawsuits from his former clients, including a proposed class action against Hesse and Pitblado filed in August.
Hesse did not return a request for comment.
He also did not respond to any notices or correspondences by the law society, which under Court of Queen’s Bench rules is deemed an admission to the facts laid out.
In a prepared statement following the release of the decision, Hecht said his firm was “appalled to discover a pattern of irregular activity” by Hesse.
“[It] did not live up to the standards we set for ourselves, or that our clients expect and deserve. We immediately removed Mr. Hesse from the firm and have fully co-operated with the Law Society of Manitoba in its investigation of the matter,” Hecht said on Tuesday.
“As we continue working to serve our clients with the highest standards of integrity, professionalism, and compassion, we hope the law society’s decision is seen as an important step towards holding Mr. Hesse accountable.”
Along with disbarment, Hesse must pay $40,000 back to the society for the costs incurred during the course of the investigation.