Filipino ex­pats stunned, money gone

Thou­sands of dol­lars lost to sud­den re­mit­tance com­pany clo­sure

Thornhill Post - - News - — Jes­sica Wei

Mem­bers of the Filipino com­mu­nity have been shar­ing their sto­ries and call­ing for jus­tice after Mabini Ex­press, a re­mit­tance com­pany that was lo­cated in Prom­e­nade mall, closed up shop sud­denly, re­sult­ing in the loss of hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars.

The busi­ness catered to the Filipino ex­pat com­mu­nity, cus­tomers who would send over large sums of money to their fam­ily and friends in the Philip­pines. The com­pany had been in op­er­a­tion for 25 years.

Elise Per­alta, a for­mer Thorn­hill res­i­dent who now lives in Whitby, has been us­ing Mabini Ex­press since 2006. On Jan. 12, she sent home around $490 to con­trib­ute to her sis­ter’s stage IV breast can­cer med­i­ca­tion. After the pro­cess­ing pe­riod, her fam­ily back home had still not re­ceived the money. When she called the busi­ness, no one picked up.

“No an­swer, the whole day,” Per­alta said. “I’m at work, and ev­ery time I have my break, I’m try­ing to call.” When she tried again the next day, she dis­cov­ered that the phone was dis­con­nected.

By most ac­counts, Je­sus and Tere­sita Mal­lari, the own­ers of Mabini Ex­press, were ac­tive com­mu­nity mem­bers. They went to the same church and were on a friendly first-name ba­sis with many of their clients.

“My par­ents never thought it would be a prob­lem be­cause they’ve been us­ing their ser­vices for so many years,” said Michelle Lu­cas, whose par­ents lost $10,000 to Mabini Ex­press. “They wor­ried more about the own­ers. They would never think what they were ca­pa­ble of.”

Ren­nel and Josie Mina live in North York and have been fil­ing re­mit­tances through Mabini Ex­press for 10 years. After the Mi­nas sold their home, the Mal­laris asked them for a $100,000 loan, with the con­di­tion that the Mal­laris would pay in­ter­est of $833.34 on a mon­thto-month ba­sis. They signed the

“It’s not about the money. It’s the trust. Your own peo­ple, you share the same im­mi­gra­tion story.”

con­tract in De­cem­ber 2016, and the Mal­laris faith­fully kept their end of the agree­ment for a year. When the con­tract date ended, they agreed to re­new the con­tract.

“Since they’ve been pay­ing us ev­ery month, I didn’t even see it in their per­son­al­ity that they would do some­thing like this,” said Ren­nel Mina. “They’re very spir­i­tual and God-fear­ing.… They are re­ally nice peo­ple. That’s what we thought.”

The last time the Mi­nas saw the Mal­laris was on Jan. 3. Around the third week of Jan­uary, they saw the sign that the busi­ness had closed and be­gan to panic. They called ev­ery mem­ber of the Mal­lari fam­ily they knew, and each time, no­body an­swered.

Con­sta­ble Laura Ni­colle from York Re­gional Po­lice con­firmed that they had re­ceived ap­prox­i­mately 20 vic­tims’ re­ports, dat­ing from Jan. 22 and on­ward, but that no charges had been laid yet.

“We’ve had quite a high num­ber of in­di­vid­u­als come for­ward in re­gard to a loss of money,” she said. “Our in­ves­ti­ga­tors are look­ing into this.”

Post City was un­able to reach the Mal­laris for com­ment. A state­ment was is­sued by their lawyer, Noel D. Gerry.

It reads, “Due to un­fore­seen cir­cum­stances and the ac­tions of third par­ties be­yond its con­trol, Mabini Ex­press re­grets that some cus­tomer re­mit­tance de­posits did not make it to the in­tended re­cip­i­ents. Mabini Ex­press has al­ways op­er­ated with good in­ten­tions and in ac­cor­dance with the law. Un­for­tu­nately, it has found it­self in an un­ten­able fi­nan­cial po­si­tion and third party cred­i­tors were able to di­vert funds in­tended for cus­tomer re­mit­tances for their own pur­poses and with­out the con­sent of Mabini Ex­press.”

Since the clo­sure of Mabini Ex­press, peo­ple who have lost money have found each other on­line and are now col­lec­tively seek­ing le­gal rep­re­sen­ta­tion, while emo­tion­ally sup­port­ing each other.

“It’s not about money. It’s the trust. Your own peo­ple, you share the same im­mi­gra­tion story,” said Lu­cas. “If you can’t trust your own peo­ple, who can you trust?”

Ren­nel Mina (left) and other vic­tims who lost money to Mabini Ex­press at the for­mer store­front

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