Marco Kozlowski's investor seminars use testimonials revoked by clients whose real estate deals collapsed
Kozlowski blames misleading ads on marketing firm
Marco Kozlowski's free real estate seminars promise big profits using testimonials from past participants, some of which were filmed before any money was actually made.
Promotional testimonials from clients praising his methods are a key part of his marketing campaign, but CBC News has learned that at least four of the people featured in the testimonials have requested they no longer be used because they're not accurate.
The Black Eyed Peas blast from the speakers. A tanned Californian says just $3,500 US can change your life, at a November seminar hosted by Kozlowski's company, At Will Events.
Participants are told they can get rich with no money down and no credit by buying cheap houses from desperate Americans.
The free seminar at a Vancouver hotel is one of four that CBC News attended where a charismatic speaker tries to recruit students for Marco Kozlowski's three-day training course. Each time, video testimonials from clients who say they cashed in big time are played.
One video features Kirpal Bhogal.
"On the second day of Marco's training, we purchased a property for 5,000 and sold it for 62,000," says the Toronto area man, attesting to the apparent profit he made with Kozlowski's guidance.
The well-dressed man at the front of the room, Lance Robinson, stops the tape and asks who is ready to "invest" in the next step of the course.
"We're gonna surround you with multi-millionaires at a three-day event," he says.
Several people pay the tuition, having no idea that Bhogal's success story wasn't completely true.
Testimonial filmed before deal closed
A CBC News investigation has discovered that Kozlowski is using testimonials by Bhogal and at least three other students who say they are not accurate.
Bhogal has confirmed to CBC that he more than once requested his testimonials not be used.
"This video was recorded just after signing the contract but before closing," wrote Bhogal in a post on Kozlowski's YouTube channel, which features one of two video testimonials Bhogal shot.
"The deals did not close; No profits were materialized."
In a statement to CBC News Nov. 14, 2015, Kozlowski said he was not aware one of Bhogal's deals had fallen through.
But an email suggests Kozlowski knew months ago that Bhogal was unhappy with his experience.
"Despite my verbal request and email earlier, my testimonial recorded at your office, is still being widely publicized," wrote Bhogal to Kozlowski, May 15, 2015.
When CBC inquired why Bhogal's testimonial was still being used, Kozlowski emailed this response.
"The testimonial is not entirely inaccurate. Mr. Bhogal made money on his first transaction," wrote Kozlowski.
Bhogal questions whether he made any profit on that transaction, because Kozlowski applied the proceeds toward Bhogal's tuition fees for advanced training.
"I have now instructed that his testimonial not be used in any form," said Kozlowski.
Despite that assurance, a printed version of Bhogal's testimonial was still being distributed at a seminar in Toronto two days later.
'It's not my testimonial'
Another former student who paid to attend Kozlowski's weekend course in Toronto was shocked to see her face on one of Kozlowski's ads in August of 2014.
"It was ... saying that I made a $132,000 profit," says Shauna Walker, furious her photo was shown beside a photo of a cheque.
"It's not my testimonial and I never made a dollar," she told CBC News.
"I emailed him and said this has to stop," she said.
Kozlowski replied, "Seems an eager marketer put your head on someone else's deal. That cheque and profit was from another Shauna."
Three months later, her ad appeared again in a newspaper, prompting her to complain once more.
"I'll break some heads. Sorry. Never happen again. Pinky promise," wrote Kozlowski, Nov. 5, 2014.
An image of the same cheque appears beside other testimonials in ads published in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal. Walker's ad has not reappeared.
'Many red alerts'
"I've attended the seminars," says Ron Usher, a lawyer who has been tracking Kozlowski's advertisements.
"There are many red alerts for people," says Usher, who tried to warn Vancouver investors to stay away from a recent seminar before Kozlowski's staff asked him to leave.
He says if Kozlowski has helped so many students, as he claims, why would he use a discredited testimonial?
"I just wonder why you would need to do that if there are so many successful stories?"
CBC News put that question to Marco Kozlowski, who responded, "We have many success stories ... and there is no need to to use Mr. Bhogal's testimonial."
Kozlowski was asked to provide contact information for such students, but has not done so yet.
CBC News did speak to six Kozlowski seminar participants who said they had no complaints about their experience, including one who appeared in a testimonial.
Testimonials altered for different markets
A review of several advertisements shows other discrepancies. Testimonials from three people list them as being from different cities.
For example, "Steeve R" is listed as living in Markham in a Toronto paper. The same photo and testimonial appears in a Montreal paper listing him as from Montreal. In other ads, he's listed as living in Surrey and Edmonton.
Mistakes blamed on marketing company
Kozlowski says the discrepancies were made by a firm that has since been fired.
"The ads were the responsibility of the marketing company and neither I, nor my staff reviewed their work," said Kozlowski.
'Suspicious' ads could lead to penalties
Brenda Pritchard, a lawyer specializing in advertising, says any advertiser who uses false or misleading testimonials could be prosecuted criminally or civilly under the Canadian Competition Act and face fines up to $10 million.
"It does look extremely suspicious, if you have one person's name and picture pretending to live in different jurisdictions," Pritchard said.
"It's whether or not these people actually used the service, got their results that they are representing here … all of these things have to be true and currently true."
When asked about whether his advertising could be in violation of Canadian laws, Kozlowski wrote, "I have every intention of complying with all federal, provincial and local laws and regulations."
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With files from Paisley Woodward