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Vancouver businessman David Sidoo charged in U.S. college bribery scandal

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  • VANCOUVER — A prominent Vancouver businessman and philanthropist is among 50 people charged in what United States authorities are alleging is the largest college admissions scam ever prosecuted.

    Advantage Lithium CEO David Sidoo, a celebrated donor to the University of British Columbia and a former Canadian Football League player for the B.C. Lions and Saskatchewan Roughriders, is accused of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud in Massachusetts.

    Sidoo’s lawyer, Richard Schonfeld, said in a statement that his client has been recognized for his philanthropic endeavours, which are “the true testament to his character.”

    “The charge that has been lodged against David is an allegation that carries with it the presumption that he is innocent. We look forward to representing our case in court, and ask that people don’t rush to judgment in the meantime.”

    None of the allegations has been proven in court.

    The U.S. Justice Department says Sidoo, 59, was arrested in San Jose, Calif., on Friday and he appeared in a California court on Monday. No date has been set for his initial appearance in federal court in Boston.

    An indictment alleges Sidoo paid $100,000 in 2011 to have an individual secretly take the SAT in place of his older son. Sidoo also emailed copies of his son’s driver’s licence and student card for the purpose of creating a falsified identification card for the individual, it asserts. 

    The individual, whose name is redacted, flew from Tampa, Fla., to Vancouver to take the SAT on behalf of Sidoo’s son, the indictment alleges. The person was directed not to obtain too high of a score, because Sidoo’s son had previously taken the exam himself and scored 1,460 out of 2,400, it says.

    The person used the falsified identification card to pose as Sidoo’s son to take the SAT in his place, scoring 1,670, the indictment says.

    The indictment says the score was emailed to an administrator at Chapman University, a private California university, where Sidoo’s son was admitted and later enrolled.

    Sidoo also paid someone to pose as his older son to take a Canadian high school graduation exam on his behalf in Vancouver in 2012, the indictment alleges. It does not disclose the amount Sidoo is accused of paying.

    Both of Sidoo’s sons attended St. George’s School, a prestigious private school in Vancouver. The school issued a statement Tuesday saying it had only just learned of the allegations.

    “We take matters like this very seriously and we are conducting our own internal investigation,” it said.

    The indictment also alleges Sidoo agreed to pay another $100,000 in 2012 for someone to take the SAT in place of his younger son. The person was directed to obtain a high score because Sidoo’s younger son had not previously taken the SAT, and the person scored 2,280, it says.

    Sidoo paid the agreed-upon sum by wire transfer to a company bank account in California the following year, it says.

    In 2013 and 2014, the falsified SAT scores obtained on behalf of his younger son were sent to universities as part of his college applications, including Yale University and Georgetown University, the indictment asserts.

    The score was also sent to the University of California-Berkeley, where the younger son was accepted and later enrolled, it says.

    The indictment also references an alleged phone conversation between Sidoo and an unidentified individual on or around Oct. 25, 2018. In the call, Sidoo noted that his older son was applying to business school, the indictment says.

    “I thought you were gonna call me and say I got a 2100 on my GMAT,” Sidoo allegedly said, referencing a standardized test that is widely used as part of the business school admissions process with a highest possible score of 800.

    The unnamed person allegedly responded, “They don’t have a 2100 for the GMAT. But I would do my best to get it for ya,” to which Sidoo allegedly replied, “I know.”

    If convicted of the charge, Sidoo must forfeit any property that is derived from proceeds traceable to the offence, the indictment says.

    At least nine athletic coaches and 33 parents including Hollywood actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin are among those charged in the investigation, dubbed Operation Varsity Blues.

    No students were charged, with authorities saying that in many cases the teenagers were not aware of what was going on.

    Sidoo graduated from the University of British Columbia in 1982 where he held a four-year football scholarship with the UBC Thunderbirds. After graduating, he was the first Indo-Canadian to play professionally in the CFL.

    He retired from football in 1988 and pursued a career in brokerages and private investment banking. He was founding shareholder of American Oil & Gas Inc., which was sold in 2010 for over US$600 million, according to his website. He is now CEO of Advantage Lithium, a lithium explorer and developer.

    Sidoo has received the Order of B.C. and is a member of the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame.

    He is also a former board member of the University of British Columbia, where he helped establish a foundation that supports the Thunderbirds. A field on campus is named after him.

    Laura Kane, The Canadian Press


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    National

    Father of seven children who were killed in Halifax house fire remains in coma

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  • HALIFAX — The father of seven children killed in a ferocious fire remains in a coma, a month after flames engulfed their Halifax home.

    Muslim community leaders say Ebraheim Barho has undergone multiple surgeries and remains in the intensive care unit of a Halifax hospital with his wife Kawthar at his side.

    Sheikh Wael Haridy of the Nova Scotia Islamic Community Centre says the grief-stricken mother is struggling with the loss of her children, who ranged in age from three months to their teens, while her husband remains in coma.

    Imam Abdallah Yousri of the Ummah Mosque says the community continues to wait and pray for his recovery.

    Although some relatives of the Syrian refugee family have arrived in Canada to offer support, efforts are still underway to bring more family members.

    Halifax deputy fire Chief David Meldrum says there are no updates on the investigation into the tragic house fire in the Spryfield neighbourhood.

    Once a cause has been determined, he says Halifax Fire and Emergency will hold a news conference to share the details with the public.

    The home on Quartz Drive was torn down earlier this month. All that remains at the grim site is the concrete foundation.

    Meldrum says he cannot comment on an ongoing investigation or the reason for any possible delay, but says “it’s fair to say that in the course of fire investigations generally, interviewing witnesses who may have information is an obvious item of importance to us.”

    Ebraheim Barho was rushed to hospital on Feb. 19 suffering from extensive burns and was placed in a medically induced coma.

    A GoFundMe campaign has raised more than $700,000 for the family.

    The Canadian Press


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    Wilson-Raybould to reveal more details, documents on SNC-Lavalin affair

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  • OTTAWA — Jody Wilson-Raybould plans to reveal more — in writing — about her accusation that she faced improper pressure to prevent the criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin.

    The former attorney general has written to the House of Commons justice committee to advise that she intends to make a written submission.

    She says the submission will disclose “relevant facts and evidence” in her possession that will further clarify her previous oral testimony at the committee and “elucidate the accuracy” of statements made by other witnesses who followed her.

    “I trust that the committee will receive this information as part of, and in follow-up to, my testimony on Feb. 27, 2019,” Wilson-Raybould writes. 

    “Further, I do hope my response to the committee’s specific request and the additional information will assist the committee in completing its study on this important matter and in preparing its final report.”

    The Liberal-dominated committee shut down its investigation into the affair on Tuesday, with Liberal members concluding no rules or laws were broken.

    Opposition parties have been demanding Prime Minister Justin Trudeau grant a blanket waiver of solicitor-client privilege and cabinet confidentiality to allow Wilson-Raybould to more fully tell her story.

    Wilson-Raybould says the additional information she will provide in her written submission will stay within the confines of the waiver she has already been granted, covering the period last fall when she claims to have been pressured up to Jan. 14 when she was shuffled out of her dual role as justice minister and attorney general.

    Her letter comes the day after former cabinet minister Jane Philpott fanned the flames of the SNC-Lavalin fire in an interview to Maclean’s magazine, saying there is “much more to the story” — a report that landed in the midst of a Conservative-orchestrated filibuster over the controversy.

    The filibuster, which continued until almost 1 a.m. Friday, was intended to protest Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s refusal to offer a blanket waiver of privilege and confidentiality that Wilson-Raybould has claimed is necessary if she is to fully tell her side of the story.

    Philpott, who resigned early this month as Treasury Board president, told Maclean’s that she raised concerns with Trudeau, during a Jan. 6 discussion about an imminent cabinet shuffle, that Wilson-Raybould was being moved out of Justice because of her refusal to intervene in the SNC-Lavalin case.

    “I think Canadians might want to know why I would have raised that with the prime minister a month before the public knew about it. Why would I have felt that there was a reason why Minister Wilson-Raybould should not be shuffled?” she said. “My sense is that Canadians would like to know the whole story.”

    But Philpott actually appears to already be free to talk about that Jan. 6 conversation with Trudeau: The government has waived solicitor-client privilege and cabinet confidentiality for last fall, when Wilson-Raybould alleges she was improperly pressured, until Jan. 14, when she was moved to the Veterans Affairs portfolio. The waiver applies not just to Wilson-Raybould but to “any persons who directly participated in discussions with her” relating to the criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin for alleged corrupt practices in Libya.

    That waiver allowed Wilson-Raybould to testify for nearly four hours before the House of Commons justice committee.

    On Thursday, Trudeau rejected the opposition parties’ contention, echoed by Philpott, that a broader waiver is required to cover the period between Jan. 14 and Wilson-Raybould’s resignation from cabinet a month later.

    “It was extremely important that the former attorney general be allowed to share completely her perspectives, her experiences on this issue, and that is what she was able to do,” he said after an announcement in Mississauga, pumping up the latest budget’s promise to invest $2.2 billion more in municipal infrastructure projects.

    “The issue at question is the issue of pressure around the Lavalin issue while she was attorney general and she got to speak fully to that.”

    Trudeau also gave his version of the Jan. 6 conversation with Philpott, during which he informed her she would be moving to Treasury Board and that Wilson-Raybould would be taking her place at Indigenous Services. His version echoed the testimony of his former principal secretary, Gerald Butts, to the justice committee.

    “She asked me directly if this was in link to the SNC-Lavalin decision and I told her no, it was not,” Trudeau said. “She then mentioned it might be a challenge for Jody Wilson-Raybould to take on the role of Indigenous Services and I asked her for her help, which she gladly offered to give, in explaining to Jody Wilson-Raybould how exciting this job was and what a great thing it would be for her to have that role.”

    Wilson-Raybould ultimately turned down the move to Indigenous Services and Trudeau moved her instead to Veterans Affairs. She resigned a month later.

    The Canadian Press




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