Alleged key players charged in $17-million mortgage fraud investigation

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Toronto police have charged two men with fraud for alleged ties to a sophisticated $17-million mortgage fraud case and the disappearance of a rookie lawyer who fled the country and was central to the alleged scheme.

Arash Missaghi and Grant Erlick, are facing criminal charges of fraud exceeding five thousand dollars, conspiracy to commit an indictable offence and accessory after the fact to an indictable offence. Missaghi was also charged with uttering forged documents. Erlick was charged with money laundering.

The charges come almost four years after the Star looked into the case of the missing millions, the private financing of luxury homes in one of the city’s toniest neighbourhoods, broken business relationships and a young lawyer on the run, Golnaz Vakili.

Toronto Police have named their investigation Project Bridle Path.

Missaghi and Erlick are accused of “enabling (Vakili) to escape” and providing “comfort” to Vakili, respectively, while knowing she was “party to the offence of uttering forced document and obstructing justice,” according to court documents.

Attempts to reach both men for comment were unsuccessful. Toronto police confirmed that Vakili is in Canada and will be a witness in the case.

Speaking to the length of time it took police to lay charges, Det. Alan Fazeli, with the financial crimes unit, pointed to the fact that Vakili has been out of the country. “Obviously there has been a change in that situation. She is co-operating,” and her charges have been dealt with, he told the Star.

Two other men were also charged. Masumeh Shaer-Valaie is charged with fraud over $5,000, conspiracy to commit an indictable offence and accessory after the fact to an indictable offence.

Bob Bahram Azizbeiki, who once worked for Missaghi and accused him of being the “mastermind” behind a string of illegal transactions linked to one of the key properties in the alleged mortgage fraud case as well as making a “direct threat” on his life, has been charged with forgery.

Azizbeiki told the Star he has “no clue” why he was charged.

Police described a “sophisticated and complex mortgage fraud investigation,” where investors were allegedly introduced to people who pretended to be the owners of luxury properties, forged documents were produced to add legitimacy to the transactions, and mortgages that were expected to be secured on the homes were never registered, something that was misrepresented to lenders, according to a news release.

Vakili, the rookie Toronto lawyer, left town in 2013, with $5,000 in cash and a bag stuffed with yoga pants and purses.

She left handwritten notes for her loved ones, confessing she was stressed to the breaking point but offering few clues as to why she abandoned her practice, her husband and her family.

“I’m so sorry to leave in this manner, so suddenly and without a goodbye, but I could not stay a minute longer without completely breaking down,” Vakili, aged 32 at the time, wrote in a letter left to her parents.

Vakili’s husband found the letter on their kitchen table. It went on to say she would be safe in Europe.

Within a month of her abrupt departure, Vakili would be named in a massive civil suit alleging she was a central figure in a sophisticated mortgage scheme worth an estimated $17 million. The courts froze her accounts and the law society suspended her licence.

Then Toronto police charged her with fraud in absentia and issued a warrant for her arrest.

Attempts to reach Vakili through email and messaging apps were unsuccessful. She has previously told the Star she is innocent and did not flee because she had something to hide.

“I did not feel safe speaking to authorities,” she told the Star in 2014, adding that she kept her family in the dark “because I did not want them to be dragged into this and pose a security threat for them …

“I have become paranoid since this situation happened. Ultimately, obviously people you think are good and honest turn out to be the devil incarnate.”

Missaghi, who is also named in the civil case, has faced several previous charges for fraud, uttering threats to two separate women, uttering a threat to cause bodily harm and conspiring to commit murder and arson. He has not been convicted of any of these charges.

In 2014, during a lengthy interview with the Star, he said people either lied about his behaviour, or he was swept up unfairly in a larger investigation.

“This is police. This is their style … where they see smoke they say ‘Let’s just charge everybody, let the judge decide where it goes,’ ” he said.

Missaghi said the accusation made by Azizbeiki is false and was made after a failed extortion attempt.

At the time Missaghi said that he didn’t know where Vakili was, or if she was innocent.

“The face that I saw of that woman, I can’t see her doing any wrongdoing,” said Missaghi. “If I knew of her whereabouts I would convince her to come back. A lot of (this) nonsense could be put to rest.”

The massive $17-million civil suit Vakili is named in was filed by a handful of companies led by businesswoman Tova Markovzki (she goes by the surname Marks), her husband, daughter and a family friend. That case, which the Star has come to call “the Marks case,” alleges that Vakili and others planned to defraud them, and that Vakili forged documents, including postal receipts for an important package that was never mailed, and that she was seen shredding papers in her office.

Missaghi, his associates Erlick and Vakili convinced Marks and her family’s network of companies to make large loans, largely in the form of second mortgages, to people who pretended to own luxury houses, according to a statement of claim in the case.

The “homeowners” used fake identification and posed as self-employed Iranian businesspeople who claimed to have trouble borrowing money from the bank. It also states Marks and her family were provided with counterfeit mortgage and bogus title insurance documents that made it seem like the transaction was insured against fraud.

Vakili was Marks’s lawyer on the deals and the money was deposited into a trust account she controlled, the claim alleges. It also says Vakili hid the fact that some properties already had multiple mortgages and failed to register some of the new ones.

The Marks case also maintains that many of the nearly 30 properties detailed in the claim were “owned or controlled by” Missaghi and Erlick and this was how the group kept, got a cut of or distributed all or some of the loaned money that is alleged to have improperly left Vakili’s account.

Police are asking anyone with information to contact them at 416-808-7300 or Crime Stoppers anonymously at 416-222-8477.

Toronto police allege four men involved in ‘sophisticated’ mortgage fraud

TORONTO _ A guilty plea from a lawyer who had fled the country gave investigators the information they needed to lay charges against four men in a $17 million alleged mortgage fraud involving high-end Toronto properties, police said Tuesday.

The men, who are all from the Toronto area and between the ages of 45 and 53, face charges including fraud, conspiracy, forgery and money laundering, police said.

Police allege the men took part in a “sophisticated and complex” scheme involving “several high-end properties.”

Lawyer Golnaz Vakili’s flight from Canada in March 2013 was the reason it took five years to bring charges against the men, said Det. Alan Fazeli.

“She was the lawyer that was registering a lot of these things,” Fazeli said. “She was a missing piece.”

Vakili has since pleaded guilty to charges related to facilitating the frauds, he said.

Fazeli said numerous different methods were used in the alleged frauds, many of which involved properties in Toronto’s upscale Bridle Path area.

“One of the methods that was used was fake individuals and shell companies had taken mortgages on some of these properties, and for all of them they had produced fake insurance and title insurance,” he said.

Police would not say how many properties were involved in the alleged scheme.

Law Society of Upper Canada documents say Vakili “participated in a massive fraud spree and multiple dishonest acts involving 13 different properties over a two-year period” beginning in 2011.

“She prepared and acted upon fake documents in support of other clearly fraudulent transactions,” a Law society hearing document states. “She repeatedly lied to her clients. She gave false testimony before the Deputy Director of Land Titles. Her clients lost just under $14 million as a result of her activities.”

Police said the four men two from Toronto and two from Richmond Hill, Ont. were arrested and charged last month.

Hub International Acquires The Shares Of Ontario-Based GMS Insurance (SWO) Inc.

Hub International Limited (Hub), a leading global insurance brokerage, announced today that it has acquired the shares of GMS Insurance (SWO) Inc. (GMS Insurance). Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed.

Based in Kitchener, Ontario, GMS Insurance is an independent benefit consulting firm that services clients in Southwestern Ontario and the greater Toronto area. GMS Insurance provides a complete solution for its clients’ retirement and employee benefit needs by bringing expertise and leveraging carrier relationships to guide corporate teams in achieving their plan objectives. GMS Insurance engages a number of consultants who specialize in different markets for companies ranging from small start-ups to large national or international corporations.

GMS Insurance will join Hub Ontario and Jonathan Shantz, President of GMS Insurance, will report to Greg Belton, Executive Chairman of HUB Ontario.

About Hub’s M&A Activities
Hub International Limited is committed to growing organically and through acquisitions to expand its geographic footprint and strengthen industry and product expertise.  For more information on the Hub M&A experience, visit WeAreHub.com.

About Hub International
Headquartered in Chicago, Illinois, Hub International Limited is a leading global insurance brokerage that provides property and casualty, life and health, employee benefits, investment and risk management products and services from offices located throughout North America.  For more information, please visit hubinternational.com.

 

SOURCE Hub International Limited

SGI reaches settlement with bars that served drunk woman who killed 4 in crash

REGINA _ Saskatchewan’s Crown-owned insurance company says it has reached a settlement with two bars that served an intoxicated woman who later killed a family of four in a traffic crash.

Catherine McKay pleaded guilty to four counts of impaired driving causing death in the 2016 collision that killed Jordan, Chanda, Kamryn and Miguire Van de Vorst.

She is serving a 10-year sentence.

McKay’s blood-alcohol level at the time of the crash near Saskatoon was three times the legal limit.

Saskatchewan Government Insurance (SGI) says the terms of the out-of-court settlements with the Industrial Kitchen and Lounge Corporation, and MCDE Holdings Ltd., which operated the Crackers Licensed Cocktail & Dining Room, will not be disclosed.

The settlements will reimburse SGI for some of the money it has paid out in the case.

“Information relayed in McKay’s criminal proceedings revealed she had been served alcohol at both establishments, and was observed by staff to be highly intoxicated,” SGI said in a release Wednesday.

“SGI took legal action in July 2017 to hold the two liquor establishments accountable for not doing enough to prevent one of their customers from driving away from their businesses highly impaired, resulting in the needless deaths of four innocent people.”

SGI says it has also filed a successful statement of claim against McKay that it will seek to collect in the future.

Police department creates zone for safer online sales in Abbotsford, B.C.

By Gemma Karstens-Smith

THE CANADIAN PRESS

ABBOTSFORD, B.C. _ Meeting a stranger to complete an online deal can feel risky, even for a veteran police officer.

Sgt. Judy Bird knows first-hand about the “sketchy” feeling that can come with buying or selling items on platforms like Craigslist, Kijiji or Facebook.

“Even though you’re not doing anything wrong, it feels weird. You’re sitting in your car, waiting to meet somebody that you don’t know and hoping that this transaction goes well,” said Bird, spokeswoman for the Abbotsford Police Department in B.C.

Abbotsford police are trying to make online deals less risky by turning two parking stalls in front of the department’s headquarters into a space where people can meet safely.

The area is under video surveillance and close to the station’s front doors, in case safety issues arise during a deal.

“This provides one more safe place where people can meet others to make these transactions in a safer manner,” Bird said. “Most offenders will not come to the police department.”

Online forums advertising everything from smart phones to wedding decor are popular in the Fraser Valley and the vast majority of transactions are problem free, she added.

But classified ads have led to violence in the past in B.C.

In 2004, Marc Rozen was killed in his Vancouver apartment after he placed an ad in a local paper saying he wanted to sell an engagement ring appraised at $18,000.

Police said the 38-year-old was murdered for the jewellery.

A man identified by police as a gang member was convicted in 2013 of first-degree murder in Rozen’s death.

Kijiji Canada spokesman Kent Sikstrom said a number of steps are taken to protect user safety on the sales platform, including technology that detects and removes potentially unsafe or illegal posts, and a customer service team that responds to listings flagged by users.

The company also encourages people to meet in public places like coffee shops to complete transactions, Sikstrom added.

“If you’re going to somebody’s house to pick up a couch, let’s say, or something heavier that you couldn’t transport to a coffee shop, we always recommend bringing a friend with you, making sure you inspect the quality of the items … maybe even agreeing to meet at those buy and sell zones as well. These are all great options,” he said.

Sikstrom added that anyone who experiences a crime should report it to police.

Police in Abbotsford are happy to provide a safe place for exchanges and will step in if a crime is committed, but officers can’t help if an item isn’t as advertised, Bird said.

People should not bring extra cash, and remember to never share personal information like social insurance numbers or banking details, she added.

“Though we are a very trusting community with good people, it’s important for us to also look after our own safety,” Bird said.

7 Statistics on Workplace Harassment

7 Statistics on Workplace Harassment

Harassment in the workplace includes any objectionable behaviour that demeans, belittles, humiliates or embarrasses an employee. It also includes intimidation and threats. Ontario, Manitoba, Québec and Saskatchewan have already introduced legislation against bullying and B.C. recently enacted Bill 14 [Workers Compensation Amendment Act] to address the effects of bullying at work.

Here are seven statistics related to workplace harassment/bullying from safetystats.com:

  • Three tactics used in workplace bullying are: withholding information from a co-worker; excluding certain employees from meetings and threatening or intimidating co-workers.
  • 10% of Canadian workers ages 18 through 24 reported being victims of sexual harassment in the workplace at some point within the previous year. (Canadian Labour Congress)
  • 7% of male workers in the US reported being sexually harassed at work. (2008 telephone poll by Louis Harris and Associates)
  • 96% percent of people have experienced incivility (disrespectful behaviour) in the workplace. (The Cost of Bad Behavior, Christine Pearson and Christine Porath)
  • 94% of workers who are treated uncivilly say they have attempted to get even with their tormentors. (Christine Pearson and Christine Porath)
  • Four examples of harassment in the workplace are: serious or repeated rude, degrading or offensive remarks; displaying or sending sexist, racist or other offensive pictures, posters or emails; sexual harassment, such as unwelcome social invitations with sexual overtones or flirting; and threats, intimidation or retaliation.
  • About 60 % of workplace bullies are men, who tend to bully male and female employees equally. (New York Times)

Make your work place a better, safer place to be, and be compliant with existing bullying legislation, with the help of anti-bullying courses (for employees and employers) and office etiquette courses from ILScorp.

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