By Bill Graveland in Calgary
The Crown asked for a sentence of 10 to 12 years Wednesday for a Calgary man who bilked clients out of millions of dollars in a Ponzi scheme.
Arnold Breitkreutz, 74, was convicted on June 29 of fraud over $5,000 for what the Crown described as a multimillion-dollar scheme in which investors believed they were putting money into safe first mortgages.
Court heard the money from his company, Base Financial, was instead loaned to an energy industry promoter and used in a risky oil play in Texas that was secured against oil-and-gas leases and equipment.
“The Crown submits that this actually was a trust situation,” said Crown prosecutor Shelley Smith, who told court that Breitkreutz was held in “high regard” by many clients after successfully running a mortgage-broker business for years.
Smith said during the period of the offence, between May 1, 2014, and Sept. 30, 2015, investors provided Breitkreutz with more than $21.4 million as a result of his “deceit.”
“The scheme was due to collapse at some point, but the fraud persisted for a period of 17 months,” she said.
“False contracts were distributed to investors, T5 (investment income tax slips) were also distributed to investors providing a gloss of legality to the scheme. With respect to the large number of victims in this case, 107 individuals were defrauded money.”
Smith is also asking that Breitkreutz pay restitution of more than $3.1 million.
The court received 29 victim impact statements. Two of the victims were in court to read them.
William Janman and his wife invested nearly $3 million with Breitkreutz and trusted him so much they would invite him to barbecues and out to dinner.
“We will never in our lifetime recover from this loss. We find ourselves struggling with unmatched loss on a daily basis instead of enjoying the end of our life and retirement,” he told the court.
He said he and his wife have experienced guilt, shame, self-blame and depression.
“The nightmare continues.”
Another investor, whose identity is protected by a publication ban, said she feels like a fool for ignoring her initial intuition after putting her finances and company at risk.
“Who would have believed that ignoring that niggly feeling would lead to the near collapse of our business and devastating financial impacts to all of our employees,” she said.
“Please remember all the victims. I ask that you sentence Arnold Breitkreutz to the fullest extent of the law so he may think of all the lives that he has damaged.”
Breitkreutz’s lawyer said his client should serve a sentence in the five-to-eight-year range and anything above that would be unfair considering his age.
Cale Ellis-Toddington said the operations of his client were not complex and the well-heeled investors knew what they were getting into.
“It wasn’t a matter of trust. You look at the evidence of the investors and they said ‘I don’t really trust Arnold, but the fact of the matter is I was getting a great return on my investment and that’s why I invested,'” he said.
Ellis-Toddington said his client was not motivated by greed but was trying to get his investor’s money back. He said his client’s level of moral blameworthiness is low.
But Queen’s Bench Justice Colin Feasby questioned that argument.
“Is it not an abuse of trust to raise money on both the explicit and implicit representation that you are a mortgage broker dealing in Alberta mortgages and then to bait-and-switch and put that money into a Texas investment?” he asked.
“Another way to look at it is: He was running Ponzi schemes and kept kicking things down the road so he never had to have a day of reckoning.”
Breitkreutz, who has been in custody since he was found guilty, offered a brief apology.
“I can feel your loss and for that I’m unbelievably and indescribably sorry. It was not my intention when I accepted your money,” he said.
“I put your money in the same place that I put my own. Nonetheless, I feel for you deeply, as much as I can and I’m sorry.”
Feasby is to deliver his sentence on Friday.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 17, 2022.
‘Ludicrous’: Prosecutor questions testimony of teen in Calgary hit-and-run cop death
By Bill Graveland in Calgary
A prosecutor suggested Wednesday a teen charged with first-degree murder in the hit-and-run death of a Calgary Police Service officer had no reason to believe he was in danger.
Sgt. Andrew Harnett died in hospital on Dec. 31, 2020, after being dragged by a fleeing SUV and falling into the path of an oncoming car.
The alleged driver, who cannot be identified because he was 17 at the time, has testified he was scared when Harnett and another officer approached the vehicle during a traffic stop and he saw Harnett put his hand on his gun.
But during cross-examination, Crown prosecutor Mike Ewenson played the body-camera footage of the stop. He asked the accused, who is now 19, if there was any proof Harnett was being threatening or insulting during the routine traffic stop.
“You brought up George Floyd in your direct examination. Do you remember what happened to George Floyd?” Ewenson asked.
The accused replied: “He got pulled out of the vehicle and I think they stepped on his neck … and he said he couldn’t breathe.”
Floyd was a Black man who was killed during an arrest by Minnesota police on May 25, 2020.
During testimony Tuesday, the teen testified he and his friends had discussed the Floyd case on social media.
“Let’s talk about what we just saw with Sgt. Harnett if we could, because you’re bringing this up at a trial that involves his death,” said Ewenson. “Any abusive language from him?”
“No,” the teen replied.
“Anything that was insulting to your age, your race, your ethnic background or religion,” Ewenson asked.
“Not necessarily, no. Actually, I felt like I was being racialized, right? Just the fact that the door opened and the fact that he asked for my phone number. I’ve never been asked for my phone number.”
Ewenson said any talk of the traffic stop being racist was just something the teen wanted the court to “take his word for” and there’s nothing that would be considered racist from Harnett’s behaviour.
“That’s how I felt,” the accused replied.
The teen repeatedly told Ewenson that he wasn’t sure how he ended up in the neighbourhood. He said he was following his GPS to get to a party. He also said he didn’t know who the third person in the back seat of the vehicle was, who had come with a friend.
Ewenson said it’s unlikely there would be memory lapses after an event that was the “most traumatic, powerful” and “consequential” night of the teen’s life.
“So looking back on it, you realize the story is ludicrous? The story doesn’t make sense, does it?” Ewenson asked. “Everything for you is a mindless reaction.”
The suspect said at the time he panicked and just decided to take off because he was afraid. The teen said looking back, he wishes his decision had been different.
“Look, to be frank to you, I’ve sat for two years in jail and I’ve thought about this over and over and over again,” he said. “It’s different when I think about it now and what I was going through at the moment.”
Ewenson suggested it was more likely something illegal was inside the suspect vehicle that made fleeing a simple traffic stop worth the risk.
Closing arguments in the trial are scheduled for Thursday.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 28, 2022.
Incredible luxury homes and vehicles seized in massive international $55 million drug bust with Alberta roots
Niagara-On-The-Lake home seized by police in Project Cobra operation
News release from the Alberta Law Enforcement Response Team (ALERT)
Project Cobra intercepts $55 million worth of drugs
More than an estimated $55 million worth of methamphetamine and cocaine has been seized following a cross-border investigation by ALERT, RCMP Federal Serious and Organized Crime, and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
Project Cobra is a nearly three-year organized crime investigation into transnational drug importation, drug trafficking, and money laundering.
As the result of enforcement initiatives on both sides of the border, 928 kilograms of methamphetamine and 6 kilograms of cocaine were intercepted. In addition, approximately $7 million worth of assets have been seized or placed under criminal restraint.
Project Cobra relied on the assistance of a number of police agencies and specialized units, including: Calgary Police Service, Edmonton Police Service, U.S. Homeland Security Investigations, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), Niagara Regional Police, Canada Revenue Agency, Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada (FINTRAC), and RCMP units in Ontario, Nova Scotia, Saskatoon, North Battleford, Sask., and Osoyoos, B.C.
Police agencies collaborated to make numerous large-scale drug seizures during the course of Project Cobra. These were shipments destined for Alberta, and included the following seizures:
- 342 kg of meth in Wyoming;
- 308 kg of meth in Los Angeles;
- 137 kg of meth in Calgary;
- 84 kg of meth in Los Angeles;
- 50 kg of meth at Lake Koocanusa, B.C.;
- 7 kg of meth and 1 kg of cocaine in Calgary; and
- 5 kg of cocaine in North Battleford, Sask.
Nineteen firearms were also seized, which included handguns, rifles, submachine guns, and suppressors.
Seven million dollars’ worth of property, bank accounts, luxury vehicles, and other suspected proceeds of crime has been seized or placed under criminal restraint. This includes a $3.5 million home in Niagara-on-the-Lake, two Lamborghinis, a Porsche, classic cars, and $200,000 cash.
Project Cobra began in 2020 and a series of 11 coordinated search warrants were executed in December 2021. Homes, vehicles, businesses, and storage locations were searched in Calgary, Bedford, Nova Scotia, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., and Leduc County, Alta.
Fifteen people and one business have been charged with 80 criminal offences ranging from participation in a criminal organization, to importation of a controlled substance, to laundering proceeds of crime, to drug trafficking.
The suspects were arrested and charged between May 2022 and August 2022:
- Elias Ade, 38-year -old from Calgary, charged with 12 offences;
- Abdul Akbar, 37-year-old from Calgary, charged with 8 offences;
- Tianna Bull, 25-year-old from North Battleford, charged with 1 offence;
- Lina El-Chammoury, 50-year-old from Calgary, charged with 2 offences;
- Russell Ens, 39-year-old from North Battleford, charged with 2 offences;
- Talal Fouani, 46-year-old from Calgary, charged with 3 offences;
- Belal Fouani, 44-year-old from Calgary, charged with 3 offences;
- Kari-Lynn Grant, 51-year-old from Calgary, charged with 4 offences;
- Scott Hunt, 33-year-old from Calgary, charged with 3 offences;
- Ricco King, 50-year-old from Bedford, N.S., charged with 5 offences;
- Jarett Mackenzie, 32-year-old from Calgary, charged with 6 offences;
- Jesse Marshall, 52-year-old from Calgary, charged with 4 offences;
- Daniel Menzul, 32-year-old from Calgary, charged with 4 offences;
- Sean Nesbitt, 44-year-old from Calgary, charged with 3 offences;
- William Whiteford, 39-year-old from Leduc County, charged with 20 offences; and
- Fouani Equity Funds Ltd. charged with 1 offence.
Fouani Equity Funds Ltd. is a Calgary-based investment company and was charged with laundering proceeds for an organized crime group.
Members of the public who suspect drug or gang activity in their community can call local police, or contact Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477). Crime Stoppers is always anonymous.
ALERT was established and is funded by the Alberta Government and is a compilation of the province’s most sophisticated law enforcement resources committed to tackling serious and organized crime.
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