A former Vancouver property developer who admitted to a multi-million dollar fraud was in court Thursday trying to undo his guilty plea, 12 years after the alleged fraud took place.
Tarsem Singh Gill pleaded guilty to two counts of fraud in May 2013, in one of the largest fraudulent real estate transaction cases in B.C. history.
He admitted to scamming nearly $40 million in 107 fraudulent transactions between 2000 and 2002.
The complicated scam involved the funnelling of payments from 77 homebuyers and 30 lenders, who did not realize they were part of a pyramid scheme in which the money they paid to purchase a house would not be used to pay off the previous owner's mortgage but instead be diverted to fund Gill's development projects.
Gill and his lawyer Martin Wirick were charged for their roles in the scheme in 2008. Wirick, who had practised law for more than 20 years, pleaded guilty in June 2009. He was sentenced to seven years in prison.
In contrast, Gill has gone through six lawyers and avoided four trial dates, and finally entered a guilty plea last May.
But in court Thursday, a defence psychologist claimed Gill was severely depressed when he made his plea. Gill told the psychologist one reason for his depression was that his then-lawyer told him he had zero chance of winning.
Gill will take the stand himself later in January to explain why his guilty plea was a mistake.
'I think he is a big crook, a big cheater, he has no sympathy for anybody.' - Home owner Jiti Sehra
A guilty plea has to be considered informed, unequivocal and voluntary. Gill will be trying to convince the court this standard was not met.
Meanwhile, Gill still works in property development. Until spring 2013, he continued as a developer, but most recently, he says he acts as a consultant.
Former homeowner Jiti Sehra claims two and a half years ago, Gill duped him into a bad mortgage deal, that cost him his home and $300,000.
"Some people don't know that he has done those things," said Sehra. "I think he is a big crook, a big cheater, he has no sympathy for anybody."
Lawyer admits misappropriated funds
The scheme first came to light in May 2002, when Wirick admitted to the Law Society of B.C. that he had misappropriated trust funds in real estate transactions by failing to pay out and discharge mortgages.
Instead, he admitted, he had applied the funds to other purposes, particularly Gill's development projects.
Tarsem Singh Gill trial date timeline:
Aug. 2008 - Gill charged
Sept. 2011 - no trial due to Gill firing lawyer
Sept. 2012 - no trial due to Gill firing lawyer
Jan. 2013 - no trial due to lawyer's resignation
Feb. 2013 - no trial due to Gill hiring new lawyer
May 2013 - no trial after Gill enters guilty plea
Oct. 2013 - Gill applies to withdraw guilty plea days before sentencing hearing
Jan. 2014 - Plea withdrawal hearing begins
In June 2002, Gill was placed in bankruptcy. In July 2002 Wirick declared bankruptcy, listing contingent liabilities of about $52 million, according to the Law Society's website. He was disbarred in December 2002.
In August 2008, Wirick and Gill were charged with two counts each of fraud and theft. Wirick was also charged with uttering forged documents and Gill with possession of stolen property.
In March 2009, Gill made his first court appearance, entering a not guilty plea with lawyer David Crossin. Three months later, Wirick pleaded guilty to his role in the scheme.
The court heard Wirick admit he had forged mortgage documents and filed the legal paperwork for homebuyers he knew had no intention of living in the properties.
He then flipped the properties and, instead of using that money to pay the initial mortgages, he left them open.
The cash was funnelled back to Gill to fund new construction projects as part of a pyramid scheme in which new mortgages would be used to pay down old mortgages.
Wirick has since been released from prison, after being sentenced to seven years for his role in the scam.
The Law Society offered to pay for Wirick's transgressions by dipping into its special compensation fund designed to compensate victims who lost money through a member lawyer's misappropriation. To date, the fund has paid out more than $38 million to the scammed homeowners.
Lawyers fired, trial dates delayed
Meanwhile, Gill's first trial was to take place in September 2011, but the month before, he fired Crossin and hired another lawyer, Ian Donaldson.
A new trial date was set for September 2012. But in August 2012, Gill fired Donaldson, forcing his second trial date to also pass by.
Gill then hired lawyer Robert Doran to represent him and a third trial date was set for January 2013. However, Doran resigned ahead of the trial citing ethical and financial issues.
In a bid to speed the legal process, the court immediately set a fourth trial date in February and appointed Fiona Begg to be a friend of the court and act as Gill's lawyer.
However, ahead of the fourth trial date, Gill hired another lawyer, Jason Mann. A new trial date was set for May 2013.
A month before the trial date, Gill went back on his decision to have a jury trial, and opted to be tried by judge alone. On May 3, the case was called ahead and he entered his guilty plea.
A sentencing hearing was put off until November 2013, to make time for a psychiatric report.
Just days before his sentencing date, Gill, with yet another new lawyer Kevin McCullough, filed an application to overturn his guilty plea.
Gill's plea withdrawal hearing will continue on Jan. 22.