Two men who allegedly ran a Toronto-based pyramid scheme that netted more than $126 million from people around the world were arrested this morning and face charges, police said.
'We're alleging this was a pyramid scheme from the get-go.' - Det. Sgt. Ian Nichol, Toronto Police Service
Det.-Sgt. Ian Nichol said the suspects, both 45, operated the online advertising company Banners Broker from an office on Church Street between October 2010 and March 2013.
Nichol said by the end of 2012, the scheme had taken in about $93 million US — the equivalent of more than $126 million Cdn — though some $45 million US of the total was paid back to early participants in the scheme.
Nichol said when Banners Broker started, it made little to no attempt to conceal the fact that it was a pyramid scheme, and investors at that time either knew or ought to have known what they were getting into.
"We're alleging this was a pyramid scheme from the get-go," Nichol told reporters at Toronto police headquarters.
Later, though the business continued to provide "little or no actual product," its website did more work to pass itself as legitimate and brought in more investors through referrals.
Some early investors — those at the top of the pyramid — made money, but as in all similar schemes "somebody gets left holding the bag," Nichol said.
The remaining millions were moved to offshore accounts in Belize, St. Lucia and other small countries, police allege.
Nichol said thousands of victims lost hundreds or thousands of dollars each, and it's doubtful they'll get any money back.
Victims sucked in
Victims were sucked in with the promise they could double their money by investing with the advertising company. Banners Broker boasted it had access to a "globally renowned network," police said.
The company also used false or misleading representations when approaching new clients, police allege.
Police launched an investigation in January 2013 after receiving a complaint from the Canadian Competition Bureau. The lengthy investigation also involved the RCMP and government agencies in Canada and the United States.
Nichol said police seized electronic equipment and paper records while executing a search warrant during the complex investigation.
The two men, one of whom is from Toronto while the other is from Vancouver, face five charges each, including defrauding the public and operating a pyramid scheme.
They're scheduled for a court appearance Wednesday.