A Calgary fraudster described by a judge as greedy and unremorseful has been sentenced to 11 years in prison for masterminding a nearly $9-million Ponzi scheme that affected about 160 investors, mostly from Alberta and B.C.
James Harvey Cameron, 66, was convicted of fraud and tax evasion in March. A charge of theft was stayed.
Some of his victims were so financially destroyed, one tried to commit suicide. Others are working long beyond their retirement years, and one couple spends several nights a week at Costco eating samples for dinner.
"Cameron's fraudulent scheme was motivated solely by greed," wrote Court of Queen's Bench Justice Paul Jeffrey in his recently released sentencing decision.
"It exemplified a high degree of planning and sophistication."
Money used for luxury vehicles, vacations
In 2002, Cameron created Venture Trading Inc. (VTI), which billed itself as a new venture startup, or seed capital company. Over the next five years about 160 people invested more than $8.8 million in Cameron's "facade businesses."
Cameron was found to have evaded taxes on the resulting income.
The money was spent on luxury vehicles and vacations — or "travel to maintain the charade of VTI's 'investments'" and on a horse for his daughter, among other things.
"He squandered the money entrusted to him with seeming wanton disregard," wrote Jeffrey.
During his scheme — which lasted from 2002 to 2007 — Cameron controlled 27 bank accounts, some held jointly with others, "which also suggests the intention to prevent creditors, including the CRA, from being able to seize or garnishee his personal assets."
Not only did Cameron make false promises to his victims on returns and risk, he also told them their investments were RRSP-eligible. Some then became the subjects of Canada Revenue Agency investigations, prosecutions and enforcement measures.
Cameron blames 'bad judgment'
The judge wrote that Cameron blamed his criminal activity on "poor decisions, bad judgment" and did not express genuine remorse or take responsibility for his crimes.
The 66-year-old, who currently has cancer, will get about three months' credit for the time he's already served.
Several letters of support for Cameron — who now lives on a street of "estate-quality homes" in Windermere, B.C. — were filed by friends and family, but did not have the desired effect.
Instead, the judge found they "demonstrate conclusively that Cameron has not been, in fact, without means." One of the letters described him as a "fixture of the men's league at the Windermere Golf Club."
"I also find it incongruous that on the one hand he has the means to afford weekly golfing at a private golf club and the means to reside in an upper-end property on a two-acre parcel near the lake in a popular all season resort town, and on the other hand he reports only social assistance income," wrote Jeffrey.
'We share what we have'
On top of his prison sentence, Cameron must also pay $1.8 million in restitution to his victims, as well as a $550,000 fine for tax evasion.
Federal prosecutor Jennifer Dundas said the real victims of people who don't pay their fair share of taxes are populations who are under-served by poorly funded government supports and services.
"Tax evasion is one of the things that undermines the fabric of what holds this country together, which is that we share what we have," said Dundas.
"And so, when someone exempts himself from that obligation to share what he has, especially someone who is taking and taking and taking for such a long period of time in such gross amounts, the penalty that's imposed for that should be sharp."