Former Concrete Equities exec pleads guilty in $20M-plus fraud

Dozens of ex-investors, some crying, packed into a Calgary courtroom to see a former Concrete Equities executive plead guilty to his part in bilking 1,200 investors in a fraud of more than $20 million.

But Varun Aurora likely won't spend any time in jail

Varun Aurora pleaded guilty to fraud for his role in bilking 1,200 investors out of more than $20 million. (Facebook)

A former Concrete Equities executive charged with fraud and theft after bilking 1,200 investors out of more than $20 million has pleaded guilty to his role in the scam but will not likely spend any time behind bars.

Varun Aurora, 33, pleaded guilty to one charge of fraud over $5,000 on Friday afternoon while the other charges were dropped.

The Calgary courtroom was packed with dozens of Aurora's victims, some of whom at times throughout the hearing could be heard crying.

Many of his victims reported having to work more years before being able to retire. Some said they felt traumatized and some felt suicidal.

A few of the 98 victim impact statements filed with the court by those affected in the scam were read aloud by prosecutor Stephen Johnston.

After investing in the fraudulent company, Gordon Shaw lost his home. He called those involved in the scam "greedy men" in his victim impact statement.

"I am upset, unable to relax and disappointed," wrote Shaw. "I have such feelings of betrayal."

Investors were promised returns of more than 500 per cent if they purchased a stake in undeveloped beach property in Mexico, according to RCMP. But the money invested essentially went into a "piggy bank" for the executives to use for other projects, according to Johnston.

"They sold people real estate that effectively didn't exist," said Johnston. "Hopefully it dawns on him the impact of what he's done to people."

Denise Hamilton and Donna Anderson both lost money through their investments with Concrete Equities. They want to see Varun Aurora spend time in jail. (Meghan Grant)

Denise Hamilton and Donna Anderson both lost money through the fraudulent company. 

"It's life impacting because you thought you were going to do well for your retirement," said Hamilton. "It was all a lie."

Both women would like to see Aurora spend time in jail though they know it's unlikely given both Crown and defence have asked that he serve his sentence in the community.

"The financial impact to the rest of us is horrendous," said Anderson.

'He had a duty to know what he was doing'

Aurora, who was one of Concrete Equities original executives, was an officer of a real estate project called El Golfo which deceived investors with "exaggerated and untrue statements including Aurora's education."

In 2009, the El Golfo project collapsed after raising $25 million.

Though Aurora's involvement was minimal, Johnston said he was wilfully blind.

"You can't just get off by saying 'I didn't know,'" said Johnston. "He had a duty to know what he was doing. He failed to do it."

A joint recommendation for a two year conditional sentence order was made by prosecutors Johnston and Brian Kiers and defence lawyer Brian Beresh.

That means Aurora likely won't spend any time in jail unless he violates his conditions. It was also proposed Aurora complete about 250 hours of community service.

Durant has reserved her sentencing decision until Wednesday of next week.

Aurora pays $1M

Aurora comes from a wealthy family; his father invested nearly $1M in El Golfo and as part of his sentence, Aurora has paid another $1M in restitution.

Nine members of Aurora's family were also in court. Although defence lawyer Brian Beresh asked that his client sit at the counsel table, Provincial Court Judge Joanne Durant ordered him into the prisoners box.

Aurora was living in India when he was arrested. He came back voluntarily to face his charges. 

In 2011, four former executives of Calgary-based Concrete Equities, including Aurora, were found guilty by the Alberta Securities Commission of breaking provincial securities laws and misleading investors.

Aurora has paid $63.70 of the $500,000 fine imposed on him by the commission.

Dave Humeniuk of St. Albert also faces criminal charges of fraud, money laundering and theft.

His trial is set for November 20, 2017.