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Alberta

‘Sorry’: Crown calls for harsh sentence for Calgary man in multimillion-dollar fraud

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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.

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Alberta

‘Short-term pain’: Group of Alberta lawyers escalate job action over legal aid cases

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By Bill Graveland in Calgary

Alberta criminal defence lawyers are taking another step in their dispute with the provincial government over the amount of compensation paid by Legal Aid Alberta.

Organizations representing lawyers in Edmonton, Calgary, Red Deer and southern Alberta began job action Aug. 8 by refusing to accept certain bail and duty counsel files from legal aid.

The lawyers also began refusing certificates for new cases for the most serious criminal charges, including sexual offences, firearms-related crimes and homicides.

Beginning Monday, they say all services will be withdrawn.

“We’re going to stop taking all certificates. That will include some our prior job actions still allowed us to take certificates for people who are already existing clients and there will be a very, very limited set of circumstances now where our members will do that,” said Kelsey Sitar, vice-president of the Criminal Defence Lawyers Association in Calgary.

“The default will be: ‘We are just not taking any new work from legal aid until the problem is fixed.'”

Sitar made her comments at a rally in front of the Calgary Courts Centre on Friday that drew about 50 criminal defence lawyers.

A table with a sign reading “Save Legal Aid” offered bake goods for sale. Lawyers carried signs reading “Access 2 Justice Must be Equal.” Another read: “This sign is too small to fit my outrage.”

“This is drastic. I mean, what we were doing up until now is something I know has happened in Ontario before, it did not last long, frankly,” Sitar said.

“I can tell you that none of us want to be out here. We all want to be in there doing our jobs.”

Justice Minister Tyler Shandro has said nothing is going to be done until a review of the Legal Aid Alberta administrative system is complete, which is scheduled for next month.

He said any budget changes for legal aid wouldn’t happen until next year.

Sitar said the ministry chose to undertake “an incomplete and, frankly, useless review” at a time when the governing United Conservative Party is about to go through a leadership change.

“So we have to act now and they need to respond now,” she said.

Sitar said she understands the people being affected the most by the job action will be people with lower incomes who need the services to afford legal representation.

“It’s short-term pain right now,” she said. “It’s really unfortunate, but I can tell you that most of the people I’ve talked to on the street who are finding themselves caught up in this understand and are grateful that we’re doing it.”

Alberta Opposition NDP Leader Rachel Notley said the problem has been growing over the last three years. She said when her party was in power, it committed to additional funding for Legal Aid, but the UCP government backtracked.

“We simply cannot be asking the Legal Aid bar to be doing what we are asking them to do at the rate that we are asking them to do it,” she told reporters.

“We have the lowest funding for Legal Aid in the country. What that means is that we don’t have equal access to justice. It undermines the integrity of our justice system and, overall, it undermines our ability to build a sense of community safety, community security and an overall respect for the rule of law — all of which are important to community health and economic growth.

“It sounds like a niche issue, but it’s not. It actually has knock-off effects to very, very important issues that affect all of us. So, the government needs to come to the table and negotiate decently with these lawyers.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 23, 2022.

— With files from Colette Derworiz in Calgary.

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Alberta

‘Kind of like carnies’: International balloon festival returns to High River, Alta.

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By Bill Graveland in High River, Alberta

The windswept prairie east of the Rocky Mountains seems an unlikely spot for a hot-air balloon festival, but the town of High River, Alta., is celebrating the event’s 10th year.

More than 20 brightly coloured balloons — including a pink elephant, a black and yellow bee and the purple and yellow Eye of Ra, named after the Egyptian sun god — took advantage of a lull in the prevailing wind this week to get some up-in-the-air time to mark the opening of the Heritage Inn International Balloon Festival.

“We get about 50 per cent of our flights off. Weather impacts us everywhere,” said event director Jamie Kinghorn, who is also a town councillor.

“This is our 10th. We started in 2013 partly because of the flood that happened. I’d been to a number of balloon events and thought this might lift the spirits of the folks in town.”

The town of 12,000 just south of Calgary gained an international profile in 2013 when flooding in parts of southern Alberta caused billions of dollars in damage.

High River was one of the hardest-hit communities. Entire neighbourhoods were under water for weeks.

“I called in a bunch of friends from the balloon community and they knew what happened, so 20 of them came into High River and we put on a balloon festival that was actually amazing for the community,” Kinghorn said.

“That was sort of the first major thing toward recovery after the flood and we’ve been doing it every year since at the end of September.”

Kinghorn said the festival is a boon to local tourism and there’s not a hotel room to be had in town.

He had his first hot air balloon over the city of Calgary in 1988. A year later he was a balloon pilot.

There are 23 balloons participating this year, including some from the United States, Belgium and the United Kingdom.

Kinghorn said it’s a pretty small community.

“We tend to meet at various events. We tend to travel. We’re kind of like carnies to some extent,” he said with a laugh.

“We travel around to different cities to different balloon events.”

Alan Davidson, who has been involved in the sport since 1977, is one of the volunteers.

He said those who get involved tend to stick with it.

“The amazing thing is that there are still seven or eight of the people I was ballooning with in the ’70s and early ’80s who are still here at this event,” said Davidson. “They’ve been working with balloons for over 40 years.”

Kinghorn, who is the owner and pilot of the Eye of Ra, was the first balloon in the air Thursday morning after a Wednesday evening flight was cancelled due to the wind.

“My God am I glad we got this off,” he said as the flight came to an end.

The festival runs through Sunday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 23, 2022.

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september, 2022

tue27sep10:00 am4:00 pmCACPC Annual SHRED Event10:00 am - 4:00 pm MST The Central Alberta Crime Prevention Centre, 4311-49 Ave Event Organized By: The Central Alberta Crime Prevention Centre

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