A woman accused of posing as a lawyer and offering legal services was arrested last week and faces two counts of fraud as well as a rarely laid witchcraft charge.
Toronto police allege that Vishwantee Persaud has no formal legal training but managed to fool multiple people, including a seasoned criminal lawyer, into believing she was a practising lawyer or law student.
At the time she was taken into custody, she was supposed to be under house arrest for previous fraud convictions.
“She has a very long history of fraud-related offences,” says Det.-Const. Corey Jones.
Jones says that since police issued the warrant for Persaud’s arrest, at least one other alleged victim came forward with a complaint.
One couple claimed they paid the woman $2,000 for immigration services, after which they were unable to reach her.
But that pales in comparison to the amount of money Persaud is accused of conning out of Noel Daley.
“In my career, in a couple of months, I’ll be 28 years at this. I’ve encountered every type of confidence man.
I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly,” Daley says. “She was the epitome of the skills that make up a good confidence man.”
None of the allegations have been proven in court. As of the time of publication, Persaud was seeking to be released on bail. Her lawyer couldn’t be reached for comment.
Daley was a year away from retiring as a criminal lawyer in downtown Toronto and moving back to Newfoundland when he says he first met Persaud in January.
She told him she was in her third year of studies at Osgoode Hall Law School, he says. Police would later say the closest the 36-year-old came to entering the legal profession was applying to law school in the mid-1990s.
Daley says Persaud identified criminal law as a possible focus, so he quizzed her on specific elements of the legal process, everything from bail hearings to judicial pretrials.
“She answered them with such accuracy and detail, I was impressed,” Daley says, adding he was convinced she had closely studied criminal law and even had some hands-on experience.
“It never occurred to me that the reason she knew the criminal law system in such detail is because she had been a participant in the criminal law system as an accused.”
He claims Persaud went on to tell him that her family was in dire financial straights.
By his assessment, Persaud was a promising law student in need of a little mentoring and a little employment.
“I have a heart the size of Newfoundland and Labrador put together, and she recognized that,” Daley alleges.
Within a month, he says he took her under his wing, set her up with space in his Richmond Street practice, and began paying her a modest salary. He was soon giving her a little money to help pay for her parents’ groceries, he says.
He says she then gave him a tarot card reading, which Daley accuses Persaud of using to exploit his religious beliefs to ultimately get money out of him.
During the reading, he says she claimed to be inhabited by the spirit of his older sister, who was visiting him to guide him to prosperity.
“I did not believe that on a literal level but I did believe it on a metaphorical level,” Daley says, citing his belief that his deceased loved ones guide him in positive ways.
“I accepted that in the framework of my Catholic faith,” Daley says.
He says he had Persaud work on minor legal assignments for a few months, attributing her need for much guidance to a steep learning curve.
Then in May, he says she came to him with a proposal. She allegedly said she had previously run a highly successful marketing firm in downtown Toronto and had been asked by Sony, a previous client, to take on a major project involving the launch of a touch-screen remote-control system.
For her work, she said she would be paid $850,000, but her project costs would be no more than $250,000, according to Daley. The profits would be his, he says.
But she allegedly said that to oversee the project, she would need premiere office space with full modern electronic infrastructure.
So he claims he leased for her “the most expensive office space in the country” on the 57th floor of First Canadian Place in the heart of the financial district.
Daley says Persaud later fell out of favour with the building’s management and had to vacate, so he moved her into an office on Charles Street East.
He alleges he was soon hemorrhaging money for rent, utilities, computers, phones, and salaries to Persaud and her associates.
More elaborate business proposals followed, requiring larger and larger cash outlays, Daley claims.
Persaud had a plan to represent visiting movie stars at the Toronto International Film Festival, he says.
He would bankroll the security, transportation, hotels, and meals for stars such as Keanu Reeves, Rachel McAdams, Vin Diesel, and Eugene Levy, he says.
Daley also claims he gave her about $18,000 for cancer treatments.
Then there was money for clothing, gym memberships, and spa treatments, Daley alleges.
“All of this was supposed to be so she could represent me in a spectacular fashion.”
He says he finally realized something was amiss when the celebrities he was supposedly endorsing failed to show up at parties he believed he was paying to host them at.
“I didn’t want to believe it was a hoax because it meant financial ruin for me,” he alleges.
Daley then made the difficult decision to tell his story to police. “My desire to make an easy buck clouded my judgment.” His final price tag was $148,000, he claims.
He soon learned about Persaud’s previous convictions and then the allegations that she defrauded other legal clients, who then got in touch with him.
“Once this house of tarot cards came tumbling down, I started to get calls.”
He says he felt obligated to take care of their legal needs.
In addition to the fraud charges, Persaud faces multiple counts of failing to comply as well as the witchcraft charge in relation to the alleged tarot card reading.
Fraudulently pretending to exercise witchcraft, sorcery, enchantment or conjuration is a summary conviction offence under the Criminal Code.
“Very rarely do we get to lay that charge,” Jones says.