August 20th, 2018

Heartbreak and fraud

By Charles Lefebvre on October 8, 2016.

Heather Neuls says she was the victim of a marriage fraud involving a man from Cuba she married, helped sponsor for permanent residency, and left her for Florida this year. --NEWS PHOTO CHARLES LEFEBVRE

A woman who recently left the Gas City said she felt “used” after an immigrant man she married and helped sponsor to come to Canada left her early in the relationship and fled to the United States.

Heather Neuls, who was living in Medicine Hat at the time, was on vacation in Cuba with a friend in February 2013, when she met Yoandy Prieto-Rodriguez in a market outside of her resort. Prieto-Rodriguez was playing in a band in the market and “it was love at first sight,” said Neuls, now 35.

Neuls said the two started chatting and soon began a four-day fling in Cuba.

When her vacation ended and Neuls returned to Canada, she continued the relationship through email, text messages and phone calls, and visits to Cuba. Through the relationship, Neuls said she had heard stories about “marriage of convenience” and marriage fraud happening to Canadian women, where men, in some cases more than a decade older than the woman, would marry them, get sponsored by the woman, and then leave the country.

“I approached him about that and I told him, ‘If you’re using me, this is something you’re going to be paying consequences for it’,” she said, noting Prieto-Rodriguez, now 33, insisted their love was real. A trip to meet his family helped cement the belief to Neuls.

“I invested three years of my life, I invested all of my heart, and I invested over $50,000 on him and his family,” she said.

The couple married in Cuba on March 17, 2015 and Neuls began work to sponsor Prieto-Rodriguez to come to Canada as a permanent resident. Neuls describes the application process for permanent residency as strict, noting she had to provide phone, text and email records, photos, proof of money sent, and other items to prove the relationship was legitimate, prior to his arrival in Canada.

Prieto-Rodriguez arrived in Canada that November. Neuls said she helped him get set up with a job, a phone, a driver’s licence, a bank account, etc., to help him transition to the new country. For two months, the relationship was in a ‘honeymoon phase’ before things changed.

“He started to get quite aggressive,” she said. “Aggressive behaviour. He hit walls, we’d fight a lot. (He’d) smash things. (He was) not showing interest in our relationship or our marriage, but showing interest on getting his independence.”

On April 20, five months after his arrival in Canada, Prieto-Rodriguez left Neuls.

“He came home after working a 12-hour shift, completely mad at me, because I was texting him, and he started yelling, and accusing me of being like his ex,” she said. “He called me a control freak, said I was jealous, all sorts of names, and smashed a glass, and that’s when I asked him to leave at that moment.

“He never came back. He never even wanted to work on the marriage.”

Prieto-Rodriguez is in Miami, says Neuls. She says he is living with a former girlfriend, with whom he had a daughter.

Neuls says divorce proceedings with Prieto-Rodriguez are underway and nearly complete.

However, according to Canadian law, she is still financially responsible for Prieto-Rodriguez for three years, even thought the marriage failed.

“I should have listened to my gut feeling two years ago,” she said. “I knew that he was using me. I knew it.”

She says she wants women to be aware about marriage fraud, saying it can happen to anyone.

“Don’t let yourself be used or taken advantage of, the way I did,” she said.

Marriage fraud laws in Canada

Under Canadian law, a sponsor is financially responsible for their spouse or partner for three years, even if the marriage or relationship fails, according to Immigrations, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.

In 2012, IRCC introduced a measure which prevents sponsored spouses or partners from sponsoring a new spouse for five years following the date they became a permanent resident, in an attempt to deter foreign nationals from entering into a marriage of convenience to gain permanent status in Canada, with the intent of abandoning their spouse to sponsor another.

Spouses and partners in a relationship of two years or less with their sponsor and who have no children in common with their sponsor at the time they submit their sponsorship application must cohabit in a legitimate relationship with their sponsor for two years from the day on which they receive their permanent resident status in Canada. If they do not remain in the relationship, the sponsored spouse’s status could be revoked. The conditional measure applies only to permanent residents whose applications are received on or after Oct. 25, 2012, as this is when this measure came into effect, says IRCC.

If it is found out that the marriage was not genuine prior to the issuance of the permanent resident visa and was obtained by misrepresentation, individuals can face arrest, prosecution and eventual removal from Canada.

An offence involving a person who misrepresented or counseled someone else to misrepresent themselves by providing false information for immigration purposes may result in a fine of up to $100,000 and/or up to five years imprisonment.

According to the Canadian Border Services Agency, From Jan. 1, 2008 to April 15, 2016, the CBSA received 617 leads alleging marriage fraud, and as a result, launched 83 criminal investigations. In Alberta, the CBSA received 71 leads alleging marriage fraud, and as a result, launched four criminal investigations.

People who believe they have been a victim of marriage fraud can contact the CBSA’s Border Watch toll free line at 1-888-502-9060.

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