An Alberta judge granted a rare civil order Thursday that allowed an Edmonton-area lawyer to search the home of man accused of ripping off people who bought recreational vehicles from him over the past three years.

Barry King represents nine couples who have filed a $4.5-million lawsuit against Arnold Donszelmann, the owner of Leisure RV, who sold RVs to them and then agreed to lease out the vehicles on their behalf.

The only problem, King said, is that Donszelmann did not have clear ownership of the vehicles he sold.

"He was selling RVs to people when he didn’t have title to them," King said.

Accompanied by a bailiff, King went to Donszelmann’s home in Millett, just outside Edmonton, Thursday and seized computers, business records and anything else that could help track the missing money.

King said the alleged victims bought RVs as an investment from Donszelmann. The purchasers were paid monthly on their investment, he said, but when the cheques stopped arriving, they called police.

That’s when people discovered the RVs did not exist, King said.

The RCMP said the case was too small for them to investigate, he said, so the Alberta Motor Vehicle Industry Council stepped in. The council stripped Donszelmann of his licence to sell RVs last fall.

Beryle Pledge and her husband, Stan, say they lost $170,000 when they bought an RV from Donszelmann.

"We'd hoped to retire someday soon. That doesn’t happen. My husband’s had two heart attacks, and he’s back working full-time. And I work full-time," she said.   

"It’s very hard. We don’t sleep at night. It’s very stressful."

The court order also allowed King to seize all of Donszelmann’s properties — as many as 40 in the Millett area. He said it could take up to two years before people recover any of the money they lost.

Anyone who suspects they may have been involved in the affair should call the Alberta Motor Vehicle Industry Council at 1-877-279-8200.