Victims of a Ponzi scheme say they feel betrayed, disgusted and devastated after many lost their life savings.
Wade Closson of St. Albert operated two companies, Optam Holdings Inc. and Infinivest Mortgage Investment Corporation, which both went into bankruptcy in 2013. Closson would take the money invested in Infinivest to pay off the investors in Optam.
On Monday Jan. 9 and Wednesday Jan. 11, Closson pleaded guilty to 55 charges of fraud over $5,000. His sentencing hearing is slated for April 18. More than 20 people are slated to give victim impact statements.
An agreed statement of facts details that 80 victims lost more than $5.8 million dollars to Closson.
One of the victims, Rick Belleperche, who will turn 70 this month, said he is now unable to retire after he lost his RRSP money to Wade Closson.
Belleperche, who worked for years as a Greyhound driver, invested his entire pension with Closson and lost almost all of it. Belleperche lost a total of $226,136 to the fraud and said that it has been “devastating.”
Now Belleperche has to continue working even though he says at his age it is difficult to work long hours. Belleperche also recently recovered from cancer and a serious motorcycle accident and said it is physically challenging for him to continue working.
The 69-year-old said that he would also rather be at home supporting his wife who is currently undergoing treatment for cancer.
“I don’t know how much longer I can work. Not a lot of people are standing in line to give 70-year-old people a decent job that pays something,” Belleperche said.
Ashamed and embarrassed
Other victims, who did not want to provide their names because they felt embarrassed by the situation, said that they felt ashamed and blamed themselves for falling for the con.
One man, who is 63 years old, said that he met Closson through a close family member who knew him.
The man invested all of his RRSP with Closson and lost all $83,800 of it. Closson did not invest any of the man’s money but spent it paying back other investors and used their money for his own living expenses.
“His family needs to understand the screw job they did to me. We were trusting enough to think that we would have an egg to retire on,” the man said.
The man said that he felt like he did his due diligence before he invested by speaking with many of the other investors involved with Closson. They all told him how successful their investments with Closson had been.
Now looking at the list of victims of the fraud, the man said he recognizes around half the names.
Many of the other investors were the man’s friends and people in his social group, so the man said that he felt more comfortable knowing that people he trusted were also investing with Closson.
Closson paid some of his investors a commission to recruit new investors for him.
The man said that he is still not able to talk about the situation with anyone outside of his family and he has not been able to tell his best friend of almost 50 years.
The couple is still working and are not sure when they will be able to retire.
Another man, a firefighter with the City of Edmonton, said that he also felt comfortable investing with Closson after many of his friends in the fire department shared their success stories.
The firefighter lost $41,760 to Closson.
The firefighter said that when he found out that it was a Ponzi scheme he felt anger, self-loathing. He said he now feels embarrassed that he believed he would be able to get an 18 per cent return rate.
The firefighter said he felt stupid after he found out he had been duped and he fell into a depression.
“I questioned 18 per cent return but greed is a powerful motivator,” the man said. “ I didn’t see any red flags but ignorance is bliss.”
Teenagers and widows
Although many people declined to be interviewed for the story, the agreed statement of facts outlines Closson’s fraud with all 81 victims. One of the victims was just 17 years old and Closson took his life savings. Some of the victims were older couples who gave Closson their RRSPs and now have to delay retirement.
In one case, Closson was asking for more money to invest from a young couple while the husband was hospitalized and in a coma with a brain tumour. The couple had already invested $150,000 with Closson and just five days before he declared bankruptcy Closson was asking the wife to invest RRSP money for her children. The wife declined.
The husband eventually died from the brain tumour and his widow and young children lost $100,015 to the fraud.
Another couple lost a whopping $649,353 to the fraud.
The Ponzi scheme spurred an investigation by the Alberta Securities Commission, which fined Closson $1 million and banned him from trading in the province in 2015. So far Clossen has made no payments.
Closson is currently out on bail and has surrendered his passport.