N.W.T. man becomes first convicted under Criminal Code for unsafe drone use

Toufic Chamas fined $3K, sentenced to 5 days in jail

Richard Gleeson · CBC News 

A Northwest Territories judge has reluctantly accepted a plea bargain for a man who repeatedly lied to police and flew a drone in airspace used by planes taking off and landing at the Yellowknife airport.

It marks the first time somebody has been convicted under the Criminal Code of dangerous operation of an aircraft as a result of illegally flying a drone, according to RCMP.

“Even taking into account the guilty pleas … I still don’t find that any of the sentences suggested are adequate,” said Judge Bernadette Schmaltz on Thursday before fining Toufic Chamas $3,000 and sentencing him to five days in jail, which he has already served.

The fine was for illegally flying a drone. The jail time was for three convictions — obstruction, driving while disqualified and breaching bail conditions by failing to report to a probation officer.

Chamas was also banned from driving for two years and is not allowed to fly a drone for three years.

Schmaltz said though she didn’t think the sentence was enough to deter the 22-year-old from committing more offences, she had to accept it because the Supreme Court of Canada has established that sentences suggested by both the Crown and defence in plea bargains can only be rejected if the sentence would cause people to lose confidence in the justice system.

Schmaltz said the sentence “definitely should not be considered a precedent.”

Caught 3 times

Police caught Chamas flying his DJI Phantom 4 Pro drone three times in downtown Yellowknife in September 2017.

Each time, Chamas told them he was unaware it was illegal to do so.

The third time, police noticed a Transport Canada pamphlet on his coffee table, laying out the rules governing drone use. It had been left with him by police who had responded to reports of a drone flying downtown the day before.

The obstruction charge was laid in October 2017 after Chamas gave a false name to municipal enforcement officers who pulled him over. He insisted the name was his even after the RCMP was called in to help identify him.

On Aug. 2 this year, Chamas was clocked driving 150 km/hr near Fort Providence, N.W.T. The RCMP found his driver’s licence had been suspended a month earlier in Alberta for the same reason: driving while disqualified.

“Mr. Chamas’s disregard for court orders couldn’t be more blatant,” said Schmaltz.

Chamas’s legal troubles are far from over.

Yellowknife RCMP say that on Oct. 19, officers pulled him over and found a stolen handgun and ammunition in his car. He has been charged with seven firearm offences, two driving-related offences, and five counts of failing to comply with court orders. He remains in custody.

Metro Vancouver casinos gang destinations for money laundering

VANCOUVER _ Money-laundering operations in casinos have been tied to British Columbia’s opioid overdose crisis and the real-estate market, the attorney general said Wednesday as he released an independent report detailing how organized crime groups used the gaming industry to distribute its profits.

David Eby said the report highlights disturbing issues related to international gangsters discovering Vancouver-area casinos as destinations to launder illegal drug money and then invest it in real estate.

“The fact that we played not just a local role, but an international role in this should be troubling to everybody,” he said.

Eby said the problem surfaced in 2011, but the former Liberal government failed to address “serious crime with serious consequences.”

“It has to stop,” Eby told a news conference. “We can’t let organized crime get ahead of us.”

Eby tasked former RCMP deputy commissioner Peter German to conduct a review and make recommendations last September.

German’s report, “Dirty Money,” said B.C.’s gaming industry and the anti-money laundering system was not prepared for the onslaught of illegal cash flowing through the casinos and they failed collectively.

He estimated more than $100 million was funnelled through casinos as part of a scheme dubbed the “Vancouver model.”

German said the model is linked to Chinese crime organizations that would loan money from their proceeds, usually drugs, to borrowers who would gamble at B.C. casinos. The gambler would then receive Canadian dollars from the proceeds to repay the criminal groups.

“The ‘genius’ of the scheme is the ability to achieve two objectives and be paid for, both in the same transaction,” the report says. “The lender is both servicing a drug trafficking organization by laundering its money, and the Chinese gambler by providing him or her with Canadian cash.”

Much of the laundered money ended up being invested in Vancouver-area real estate, German said.

“Why did this occur? Because it could,” he told the news conference.

German’s report says the RCMP viewed real estate as a hiding place for illegal money.

“It has been said that ‘everything in B.C. comes back to real estate,’ “the report says. “It has also been suggested that you can see a ‘rat move through all of it,’ meaning that each component of the industry is vulnerable to criminal actors who tend to operate in more than one discrete area of real estate sales, mortgages, insurance, and so forth.”

German said the amount of suspicious money entering casinos since a high point in 2015 has been greatly reduced due to police and industry actions, but the prevention measures must continue to ensure the problem does not resurface.

He warned organized crime will move on to other sectors of the economy, including luxury vehicles and horse racing.

“We need a strong provincial regulator, which is not currently the situation,” German said.

The report makes 48 recommendations, including the establishment of a gaming regulator and a police unit that specializes in criminal and regulatory investigations in the industry.

Eby said the government accepts all the recommendations.

“We will be moving as quickly as possible to slam the door shut on dirty money,” he said.

He said the former Liberal government turned a blind eye to money laundering in B.C. casinos for years.

“Nobody said No to taking this money and that is inexcusable.”

Liberal jobs critic Jas Johal said he expected the report to include announcements of arrests and crackdowns on organized crime.

Billions of dollars have been invested in B.C.’s real estate market in the last few years so “$100 million is a drop the bucket,” he said in an interview.

Johal said German’s recommendations will strengthen the system, and the Liberal government was moving towards making improvements before the last provincial election in May 2017.

Eby launched an investigation after the government’s gaming enforcement branch showed him surveillance video of gamblers walking into casinos with suitcases and a hockey bag full of $20 bills.

The BC Lottery Corp., which operates casinos, said the report is an important road map for multiple organizations involved in fighting money laundering in the province.

“We are poised to implement the direction set out by Attorney General David Eby to keep dirty money out of casinos alongside our industry, government and law enforcement partners,” corporation president Jim Lightbody said in a news release.

By Dirk Meissner in Victoria.

Former head of China’s Anbang group appeals prison sentence

The founder and former head of the sprawling Chinese insurance group that owns New York’s famed Waldorf Astoria Hotel is appealing his sentence of 18 years in prison for fraud.

A lawyer for Wu Xiaohui told The Associated Press on Wednesday, May 30, 2018 that his client would seek to have the charges against him dismissed.

Lawyer Chen Youxi said the charges were not supported by evidence, but declined to provide further information.

Prior to Wu’s sentencing earlier this month, his Anbang Insurance Group acquired a vast range of global assets and discussed possibly investing in a Manhattan skyscraper owned by the family of U.S. President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner. Those talks ended last year with no deal.

The Shanghai No. 1 Intermediate People’s Court said Wu pleaded guilty at trial to fraudulently raising billions of dollars from investors.

The court also ordered the confiscation of 10.5 billion yuan ($1.6 billion) in assets from Wu, who founded privately-owned Anbang in 2004.

Wu was accused of misleading investors and diverting money for his own use. He was detained last year and regulators seized control of Anbang in February. He was shown on state TV in March admitting guilt.

Wu initially had denied his guilt at his one-day trial, according to a court statement.

Court documents quoted by state media said Wu concealed his ownership of shares in companies controlled by Anbang, filed false statements with financial authorities and lured investors by offering a rate of return above that offered elsewhere. Much of the business relied on selling insurance products to raise investment capital.

They said he used more than 100 companies under his control to manage funds and used his position to misappropriate 10 billion yuan ($1.5 billion) in Anbang’s deposits.

BMO and CIBC’s Simplii warn fraudsters may have accessed clients’ data

Two of Canada’s biggest banks warned Monday that “fraudsters” may have accessed certain personal and financial information of up to 90,000 customers.

The Bank of Montreal said hackers contacted the bank on Sunday claiming to be in possession of the personal information of fewer than 50,000 customers and threatened to make it public.

“We became aware of unverified claims that customer personal and financial data may have been accessed by a fraudster,” said spokesman Paul Gammal in an emailed statement Monday, May 28, 2018.

“A threat was made. Our practice is not to make payments to fraudsters. We are focused on protecting and helping our customers,” he said.

The bank said it believes the attack originated outside Canada, but did not elaborate on the type of data they accessed.

Gammal said the bank is conducting a thorough investigation and is working with the relevant authorities.

The disclosure followed a warning from CIBC’s direct banking brand Simplii Financial that also said “fraudsters” may have electronically accessed certain personal and account information for approximately 40,000 Simplii Financial clients.

Simplii said Monday it learned of the potential issue on Sunday and has implemented additional online security measures such as enhanced online fraud monitoring, adding it is working with the relevant authorities.

Gammal said the potential breach at BMO appears to be related to the CIBC issue. Royal Bank, Scotiabank and Toronto-Dominion Bank said they have no indication they were affected.

Both BMO and CIBC said they will be contacting clients, and recommended that customers monitor their accounts and notify their financial institution about any suspicious activity.

“We are investigating to determine the validity of the claims and the type of the information that may have been accessed,” CIBC spokesman Tom Wallis said in an emailed statement.

Minister of Finance Bill Morneau has spoken to the chief executives of the affected institutions, ministry spokeswoman Jocelyn Sweet said.

“We are monitoring the situation closely with the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions,” she said in an emailed statement. “The situation is being investigated by the institutions in collaboration with law enforcement.”

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner said Monday that both financial institutions have notified it about the issue.

“We are working with the organizations to better understand what occurred and what they are doing to mitigate the situation,” said spokeswoman Valerie Lawton in an email.

“At this point in time, we are in contact with the companies; we have not opened a formal investigation.”

Simplii said Monday that clients who are victims of fraud because of the issue will receive 100 per cent of the money lost from the affected bank account. It added that there is no indication that clients who bank through CIBC have been affected.

CIBC launched Simplii in November and absorbed the accounts of some two million President’s Choice Financial account holders. CIBC had provided the back-end banking services for PC Financial for nearly 20 years, but last August the bank struck a deal with PC’s parent company Loblaw to go their separate ways.

The potential data breaches reported by Simplii and BMO on Monday are the latest cybersecurity incidents involving Canadians.

Last fall, credit reporting service Equifax notified the public that hackers accessed or stole the personal data of 145.5 million U.S. customers and 19,000 Canadians. In January, Bell Canada warned some of its customers that their information, such as names and email addresses, had been illegally accessed in a data breach.

In November, ride-sharing company Uber said hackers stole names, email addresses and cellphone numbers of millions of riders. Uber in December said that 815,000 Canadian riders and drivers may have been affected as part of the worldwide data breach.

New federal data breach regulations which would require mandatory reporting of security breaches are set to take effect on Nov. 1.

The regulations require organizations to determine if a data breach poses a risk to any individual whose information was involved and then to notify the federal privacy commissioner and affected individuals “as soon as feasible.” Previously, companies that had been hacked had been alerting the public on their own timeline.

Six Montrealers facing extradition to the U.S. for alleged fraud

A Pennsylvania woman who is among the alleged victims of a lottery scheme involving six Montreal-area men has testified she lost nearly US$300,000.

The six are facing extradition to the United States to face charges related to the alleged fraud of US$1.35 million.

Court documents provide similar testimony from two other alleged victims in Pennsylvania as well as two from California, and one each from Massachusetts and Oregon. They were all led to believe they had won a Canadian lottery.

The documents allege the Pennsylvania woman was first targeted in November 2011, when a man identifying himself as a Canadian-based attorney told her she had won $80,000 in a lottery in Canada.

But before she could receive the prize, she was allegedly told she had to pay taxes and customs fees totalling $8,000. The fees could be paid through Western Union and/or MoneyGram.

After she wired that amount, an individual who claimed to be a U.S. customs officer allegedly contacted her and said the prize was actually $800,000, meaning additional taxes of more than $88,000.

The court documents allege she was then contacted by another person claiming to be an agent with the Internal Revenue Service. She was told there was an additional $900,000 lottery prize but again had to pay taxes and fees before she could collect. The woman was also provided with lenders to help her pay for the additional fees.

In the end, the American lost about $295,000 _ her life savings _ because of the allegedly fraudulent sweepstakes.

The fraud artists allegedly used prepaid cellphones to call the Americans and then tell them to send money to cover taxes, transfer fees and insurance.

The phones were obtained and listed under fictitious names.

The six accused, who allegedly conspired with one another, range in age from 53 to 72 and were arrested at the request of prosecutors in Pennsylvania.

American authorities allege the group was part of a network that operated out of Montreal from May 2011 through at least October 2013.

The alleged victims never received the winning lottery money they were promised.

The recent arrests came after a three-year inquiry that involved the RCMP and Quebec provincial police.

It was part of a U.S.-Canada initiative known as “Project COLT,” which targeted telemarketers.

RCMP investigators say the accused are to appear in Quebec Superior Court in early June.

April is Auto Crime Enforcement Month 2018: “Lock it or Looted”

Source: ICBC

April is Auto Crime Enforcement Month. This year the Integrated Municipal Provincial Auto Crime Team (IMPACT), the Province of British Columbia, and ICBC are asking vehicle owners to avoid tempting criminals. The theme of “Lock it or Looted” suggests that if owners are not locking their vehicle doors, they are susceptible to crimes of opportunity.

The statistics from the past year show that in British Columbia the number of thefts from vehicles dropped by less than a percent due to an increase in the number of thefts from vehicles in parts of the province outside the Lower Mainland.

What thieves are looking for is opportunity. Vehicle owners are being cautioned to not leave themselves vulnerable to victimization.

Top 10 most common items stolen from vehicles:

  • Smartphones
  • Personal electronics – tablets, laptops, GPS
  • Work tools
  • Credit cards
  • Identification and documents
  • Cash and change
  • Car parts and accessories
  • Garage door openers
  • Sunglasses
  • Keys

“In British Columbia, we need to see thefts from vehicles drop more significantly in order to say we are having an impact on deterring auto crime,” says Insp. MacDonald of IMPACT.  “The hard work of our team at IMPACT and the diligence of all officers  around the province has gone a long way towards educating the public and making vehicle owners aware of how they can help bring these statistics down.”

“The police, the Province, ICBC, the IMPACT team, and B.C.’s Bait Car program continue to work around the clock to take down auto thieves and help put them behind bars—and these innovative efforts continue to make our roads and communities safer,” says Mike Farnworth, Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General. “But, we must all remain vigilant, and Auto Crime Enforcement month is an excellent opportunity to remind vehicle owners of the many ways they can protect their automobiles and keep their personal property safe. Everyone has a role to play to make it harder for auto thieves and to ensure there are fewer victims of auto crime.”

“Auto crime is not only a distressing and troublesome experience for our customers, but also adds pressure on claims costs,” says Steve Crombie, Vice President responsible for Road Safety at ICBC. “Last year stolen vehicle claims in B.C. cost approximately $50 million and vehicle break-in claims cost another $18 million. Taking thoughtful actions to prevent auto crime not only helps to control claims costs, but will help to make our communities and roads safer.”

In order to keep vehicles safe, it requires a conscious effort by the owners. Some helpful tips include:
  • Do not leave your vehicle running with the keys in the ignition.
  • Park in a locked, secure garage, or a well-lit, high-traffic area.
  • Remove unsecured possessions from your vehicle.  Anything that might tempt a thief.
  • Install an alarm system.
  • Always lock your vehicle.

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