Alpha 400

After months of getting the runaround from investigators, government agencies, and other media outlets that could not comprehend the gravity of the bog they had found themselves mired in, they flocked to DAILY TRIBUNE’s digital show Usapang OFW, mostly from the province of Batangas.

They are the so-called Alpha 400, a group of about 200 job-seekers to Italy, and their counterpart Filipino sponsors in that country who claimed they were duped out of their money by the couple Krizelle Respicio and Frederick Dutaro, co-CEOs of an “immigration consultancy” firm. Some said they were forced to sell farmland and other properties to pay 3,000 to 5,000 euros in consultancy fees.

That’s as heartless as it gets, taking money from people who have less in life and whose only fault, if it could be called that, was to dream of improving their standing in life, albeit without doing the necessary due diligence, which set them up as “victims” of the alleged scam.

The “ties that bind,” to borrow TRIBUNE’s recent headline about the purported massive recruitment racket, were that the sponsors in Italy and the job-seekers, whose visa applications were denied by the Italian Embassy in Manila on account of the bogus “nulla osta” or work permits provided them by Alpha Assistenza, only wanted decent-paying jobs in Italy and to be together.

Most of the sponsors and job-seekers were related or were friends, including nine from one clan alone who paid Alpha Assistenza 21,000 euros (roughly P1,259,434) in placement fees exacted by a company that had no business recruiting because it was registered neither in the Philippines nor Italy.

Jeffrey Villalon, Alpha Assistenza’s marketing manager on paper who cobbled together its clickbait website that redirected visa queries to chat groups moderated by Respicio, came to TRIBUNE one night to disassociate himself from Respicio, saying he was a victim like the others.

He said Respicio promised to bring him back to Italy at no cost so he could be with his two children. “There are two sets of victims here,” Villalon told this writer, “the sponsors and the job-seekers they endorsed to Alpha.”

The sponsors, he said, may have jeopardized their own stay in Italy as the Italian police and prosecutors are now investigating the matter. He explained that the sponsors might be held liable for endorsing job-seekers who were, unknown to them, provided fake nulla osta by Alpha Assistenza.

If his name “had not been dragged into the mud” for setting up the website and being given by Respicio that grand “marketing manager” title, Villalon said, he would find funny the ribbing he has gotten from friends who said he had worked in Italy in the past only to fall for this scam.

Decades back, Villalon said he paid roughly P1 million to be able to work in Italy. Thus, he thought the fees being collected by Alpha Assistenza were reasonable if the firm successfully facilitated the entry and work in Italy of job-seekers. As it turned out, he said, the fees collected were at a price point within the financial reach of either the sponsors or the job-seekers.

Alpha Assistenza went “cheap” because it wanted volume — better to have many applicants than a few who could pay the P1 million charged in the past. Maybe it was money for nothing for the consultants whom the Italian Embassy dubbed “predators,” but it was money from the blood, sweat, and tears of the victims.

The Italian Embassy said the victims may not be totally faultless as it asked whether “all those who were allegedly defrauded had acted with integrity and in an unquestionable manner.”

Further, it said, “Regrettably, the attempt to find an alternative route that would allow them to obtain what they wished for by circumventing the system bears the risk of being exposed to such scams.” It then pointed out that a quick internet search could have helped the victims see the many red flags apparent in Alpha Assistenza’s modus operandi.

In a nutshell, the caveat here of the embassy is that those who choose to sup with the devil risk getting burned.

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