Not-guilty ruling in fraud case

Dishonesty not proven in Workers' Compensation Board case, says judge

A Peninsula businessman who was accused of defrauding the Workers’ Compensation Board of more than $5,000 in connection with benefits received for an injury suffered on the job nine years ago has been cleared of the charge.

Friedown (Fred) Edrissi – who once owned Bistro Aubergine in White Rock’s Five Corners district – was found not guilty in B.C. Supreme Court in New Westminster on Oct. 28.

According to reasons for judgment that were posted online last week, the decision was made following a trial that took place over 12 days in April and November 2015, as well as May 2016.

In explaining the verdict, Justice G.P. Weatherill noted the Crown did not prove that Edrissi received the benefits “through deceit, falsehood or other fraudulent means.”

To find guilt, “The dishonesty… must also have been intentional,” Weatherill stated.

According to the judgment, the left-handed Edrissi suffered a severe cut to his left arm on Sept. 6, 2007 while cutting baseboards for SEB Design Solutions Ltd., a home design/renovation company that he started with his wife Sabina in January of the same year – five years after selling the White Rock restaurant.

The saw cut through tendons on the top of his forearm near his wrist; immediate surgery was required, and a second was performed 5½ months later.

Edrissi – who has made Peace Arch News headlines several times since August 2009, after he was viciously attacked by a man he had hired to do mechanical work on his van – applied for WCB benefits four days after his injury. On the application page that required his signature, it warned that it was “a serious offence to knowingly make a false claim or to work and earn income while receiving workers’ compensation without advising WorkSafeBC…,” the judgment notes.

The Crown alleged that Edrissi did just that between April 1 and Dec. 1, 2008; that he failed to disclose his return to pre-injury employment and “actively misrepresented” to the WCB his ability to return to work.

“The Crown argues that the accused dishonestly and deceitfully returned to work in construction and catering while at the same time obtaining wage-loss benefits from the WCB and that he knew the WCB representatives he was dealing with relied on his misleading descriptions of his physical limitations and life circumstances in order to portray himself as unable to return to any work in a timely way,” the judgment states, in a summary of the Crown’s theory.

“The Crown argues that the accused knowingly engaged in deceit and falsehoods with the intention of obtaining financial benefits from WCB to the extent that the charge against him has been made out.”

While the court heard that bank records suggested Edrissi had earned “well over $300,000 during the period when he said he was unable to work,” witnesses who testified regarding the work he undertook all gave evidence that Edrissi was involved on a supervisory basis and did no physical work himself.

Defence counsel argued that Edrissi had understood that he needed to find full-time work to replace his pre-injury earnings, and that, for the tasks he did perform during the relevant time period “he was not paid and never drew income from the company.”

Edrissi, now 64, testified that he believed WCB continued to pay him benefits because he was no longer an “active” worker, and that the temporary benefits would eventually lapse.

Edrissi denied any intent to defraud the WCB, and told the court he believed the work he did undertake while receiving benefits “were not relevant to his hand injury.”

“He did not know that he should have reported the supervisory work he did for SEB and (catering company) Bistro Aubergine when he was not receiving money,” the judgment states.

While Weatherill said he was satisfied that Crown had proven Edrissi put WCB “at risk of deprivation,” he was not satisfied that “the requisite element of dishonesty” had been proven.

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