British Columbia

B.C. court cuts $6M fine on alleged fraud scheme

The B.C. Appeal Court has dramatically slashed a $6-million B.C. Securities Commission fine against Ian Thow, who is accused of bilking investors out of millions.
The B.C. Securities Commission imposed its largest ever fine against Ian Thow and banned him from the securities industry after it ruled in 2007 that he used clients' money for personal gains. ((CBC))

The B.C. Appeal Court has dramatically slashed a $6-million B.C. Securities Commission fine against Ian Thow, who is accused of bilking investors out of millions.

Thow, who is believed to have left the country, now faces a $250,000 fine.

The former mutual funds dealer from Victoria still faces more than two dozen criminal charges over allegations he ripped off investors to the tune of $10 million.

In December 2007, the securities commission imposed its largest ever fine against Thow and banned him from the securities industry after it ruled he used clients' money for luxury cars, a yacht and a personal business jet.

The commission said at the time that Thow preyed on his clients by offering them non-existent securities and instead used their money to support his lavish lifestyle.

"This case represents one of the most callous and audacious frauds this province has seen," the commission said when it imposed the penalty.

Before imposing the sentence, the regulator ruled that Thow, who was senior vice-president with Berkshire Investment Group Inc., took millions from dozens and perhaps hundreds of investors in B.C. and Alberta.

Thow's lawyer took the case to the B.C. Court of Appeal, arguing that because Thow's contraventions dated back to 1996, the commission only had the right to impose the maximum penalty at the time of $250,000.

Lawyers for the securities commission acknowledged that Thow's contraventions were dated before it changed the maximum administrative penalty, but said the penalty could be applied retroactively.

Commission lawyers told the Appeal Court in a hearing last September that imposing the fine against Thow wasn't punitive.

In an unanimous decision, three Appeal Court justices disagreed with the commission's lawyers.

Court overturns fine

In the ruling, Justice Catherine Ryan wrote the commission wrongly decided it could increase the maximum administrative penalty.

"It may not have been imposed as a punishment for Mr. Thow's moral failings, and it may not have been motivated by a desire for retribution or to denounce his conduct," Ryan wrote. "Nonetheless, it was 'punitive' in the broad sense of the word; it was designed to penalize Mr. Thow and to deter others from similar conduct."

The court overturned the $6-million fine and substituted the maximum penalty allowed at the time of $250,000.

Thow has yet to appear in court to face the criminal charges.

He was last seen travelling over the Canada-U.S. border into Washington State.

Victoria police, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Vancouver Integrated Market Enforcement Team are all working on the case.

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