British Columbia

Sentencing begins for 'Magic Lady' Ponzi schemer Rashida Samji

Sentencing will begin Tuesday in Vancouver provincial court for a former notary public convicted of running a $110 million Ponzi scheme.

Former notary public could face up to 14 years in prison for running $110 M scam

Rashida Samji will be sentenced in a Vancouver court on 28 counts in a $110-million Ponzi scheme. (Jason Proctor/Twitter)

Sentencing will begin Tuesday in Vancouver provincial court for a former notary public convicted on 28 counts of theft and fraud for running a $110-million Ponzi scheme.

Rashida Samji could face up to 14 years in prison for defrauding more than 200 investors of millions of dollars. The 63-year-old has already argued for leniency after being fined $33 million by the B.C. Securities Commission.

But a provincial court judge has said she needs to face more severe consequences to atone for her crimes.

'Big lie and a monumental deceit'

The Ponzi scheme ran from 2003 until 2012. Investors believed their money would provide the collateral to back up so-called "letters of comfort" for a B.C. winery seeking to expand its operations to South America and South Africa.

The cash was never supposed to leave Samji's accounts. Participants were promised steady, secure returns of up to 12 per cent. Samji became known as "the magic lady" because of how quickly investors saw profits.

Rashida Samji was a prominent figure in Vancouver's South Asian community but has become a social pariah in the wake of her scheme's exposure.

In reality, money from new investors was used to pay dividends to old ones.

In 2012, when the scheme started to fall apart, B.C.'s Society of Notaries Public suspended Samji and appointed a custodian to take over her practice.

The judge who convicted her last spring called Samji's scheme "a big lie and a monumental deceit."

Court actions have been initiated in the intervening years in the hopes of clawing cash back from investors who actually made money through Samji for redistribution to the scheme's many losers.

A social pariah with no bank account

Samji has argued she has paid dearly for her actions. She declared bankruptcy in 2012 and a trustee sold her Vancouver home. 

She now lives in a rental apartment, working as a receptionist at a hotel in the Fraser Valley where she makes $14 per hour. She claims she hasn't applied to open a bank account because she fears rejection.

She cashes her cheques, including Canada Pension Plan Benefits, at Money Mart.

Montreal fraudster Earl Jones was sentenced to 11 years in prison for a Ponzi scheme. He was released after serving just four years. (The Canadian Press)

Samji is a cancer survivor, a part of her life story which she often used to build relationships with investors. Her doctor has advised her she is prone to relapse under stress.

She claims to have been ostracized by family and friends alike, shamed in the media and left to care for her 90-year-old father, whose medical problems and dementia require resources well beyond her means.

But many of Samji's victims have also spoken about the ongoing financial difficulties they suffered as a result of her crimes: bankruptcies, foreclosures, divorces, retirements cut short, life-savings stolen.

Jail for Ponzi schemers

Other Canadian fraudsters have earned serious jail time for Ponzi schemes of comparative size.

Self-styled Montreal investor Earl Jones was sent to jail for 11 years in 2010 after pleading guilty to two counts of fraud in a scheme estimated to have cost victims about $51.3 million.

He was paroled in 2014 after serving just four years.

And last year two Alberta men were given 12 years in jail for a $200-million scheme targeting more than 2,400 investors from around the world.

Samji is also permanently banned from B.C.'s capital markets as is another man accused of having sent about 90 investors her way through his position at the credit union Coast Capital Savings.

Arvindbhai Bakorbhai Patel still faces 32 counts of Securities Act violations in connection with the scheme. His trial is set for next year.