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by Paula Saraza and Eden Debebe

Toronto Police are urging people to check their investments as they continue to investigate an alleged multi-million dollar Ponzi scheme targeting the Filipino community.

More than 60 victims have come forward in the year-long fraud investigation dubbed ‘Project COSMO’, according to Toronto Police.

Victims from North York, Windsor, Oakville, Burlington and other parts of southern Ontario say they were coerced by fraudsters to take out large loans and apply for second mortgages with the promise of lucrative returns on their investments. 

Jason Gaurana (left) , 37, and Glenda Esteves, 45, were two of the three suspects arrested and charged in the Toronto Police Project COSMO investigation

In an interview with OMNI Television, Detective Constable Jeffrey Dyrkawec said at least five organizations were involved in the alleged Ponzi scheme, ranging from Church groups to makeup companies.

“If you’ve invested in INFY Trading, D-Con Construction, B+E Investments, MAC Glamour or put any money into the Vessels of Hope Church, you should reach out to Project COSMO,” said Dyrkawec.

Police allege Mac Glamour recruited victims to register second mortgages, loans, cash and other equity to invest in the company, with the promise of a large financial pay-out in the future. Unfortunately, officers said their money was never used for any investment. Officers also allege funds from those organizations were funneled through The Vessels of Hope International Community Church under the pretense of buying land in the Philippines to grow the congregation outside of Canada.

While original police reports projected a loss of $3.5 million dollars, officials now believe the total amount could be double that. Investigators tell OMNI News that bank accounts seized from the accused were already empty, with money assumed to have been transferred, distributed or liquidated in advance.

Forensics are still working on sourcing financial documents and other concrete evidence to determine the exact amount taken from victims, citing one of the largest obstacles in their investigation: victims being too scared or embarrassed to come forward.

*** “Please don’t be embarrassed to report to the police. If there’s anyone who should be embarrassed, it’s the suspects in this case. We are here to help you, and offer all the support you need,” said Pinoy Toronto Police Constable Don Laurel.

It’s a message Laurel hopes is passed throughout the Filipino community, a group he said would stand against the fraudster’s deceitful actions.

***”It’s in our [Filipino] culture to easily give trust to others, especially if we’re abroad and meet other Filipinos. What I don’t understand is…how could there be people like them, willing to prey on their fellow Filipinos?”

Laurel is also encouraging the public to be vigilant and ward off similar fraudsters by researching companies before looking to invest in them.

Glenda Lee Esteves, 45, and  Teddy Lee Esteves, 44, both of Toronto, were arrested on August 12th, 2020, facing multiple charges including uttering a forged document and money laundering. Just a few months later on October 1st, Pastor Jason Gaurana, 37, was arrested and charged with two counts of fraud exceeding $5,000.

Anyone with information on Project COSMO is asked to contact Toronto Police via email at ‘projectcosmo@tps.ca’ or call financial crimes at 416-808-7300.

*** Quotes with stars have been translated from Tagalog