'Could be greater fraud amount' in probe of alleged traffic ticket-fixing scam

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Toronto Police are continuing their investigation into an alleged traffic ticket-fixing conspiracy involving four paralegals and a court clerk.

Officers received an anonymous tip six months ago, said Det. Pedro Vidinha, of 12 division.

According to police allegations, convictions for traffic offences were being changed to withdrawals on the court computer system.

Benito Bennardo Submitted

“The fraud involved the loss of fines, $30,000, which would (have to) be paid if these convictions weren’t removed from the system,” said Vidinha. “There could be a greater fraud amount as we continue our investigation.

“It’s alleged that the drivers would receive clean driving records and lower insurance premiums after the convictions were illegally removed,” said Vidinha.

The first person charged was Toronto court clerk Frank Rizzello in February.

Rizzello, 43, who had spent 15 years working as a computer intake clerk at the 2700 Eglinton Ave. W. courthouse that handles traffic and provincial offences act cases, was fired.

Benito Zappia Submitted

He’s barred from applying for any court support job in Ontario and prohibited from communicating with paralegals or any known employee at his former workplace, except through his lawyer for the purpose of preparing a defence.

Rizzello is charged with breach of trust, attempting to obstruct justice and fraud-related offences. He faces the same allegations as four paralegals — Ben Zappia, Ben Bennardo, Payam Javadi and Philip Alexiu — who were arrested this week.

The four are charged with breach of trust, fraud over $5,000, uttering forged documents and conspiracy to commit an indictable offence.  They were all released on their own recognizance from Ontario Court of Justice on Tuesday.

Zappia, 44, Bennardo, 30,  Javadi, 37, Alexiu, 38, and Rizzello will be back in court on May 27.

The four paralegals were released under conditions barring them from attending the 2700 Eglinton Ave. W. traffic courthouse and from contacting the more than 130 people whose convictions were allegedly erased.