Calgary

'No way to recover': Victim reacts to conviction in massive Alberta Ponzi scheme

A Calgary man who defrauded investors out of tens of millions of dollars has been taken into custody after a judge convicted him in a decades-long Ponzi scheme. 

Arnold Breitkreutz, 74, found guilty of fraud over $5,000, to be sentenced at later date

Arnold Breitkreutz told investors their money would be secured by mortgages on properties in Alberta, but instead their invested funds were loaned to an oil and gas promoter in Texas and used in 'risky' business deals, according to the judge. (David Horemans/CBC)

A Calgary man who defrauded investors out of tens of millions of dollars has been taken into custody after a judge convicted him in a decades-long Ponzi scheme. 

Arnold Breitkreutz, 74, was found guilty of fraud over $5,000 by Court of Queen's Bench Justice Colin Feasby, following a trial that took place earlier this month.

When charges were first laid in 2018, RCMP said there were hundreds of investors affected.

Those men and women invested in Breitkreutz's company, Base Finance, and believed their money was secured by mortgages on real estate in Alberta.

In reality, it was loaned to an oil and gas promoter and used in "a risky oil play in Texas and secured against oil and gas leases and equipment," wrote the judge in his 20-page decision.

'We saw the sheriffs take him'

A group of about a dozen investors were in the courtroom Wednesday afternoon for the verdict.

"He's been convicted and we know he's going to go to jail," said Bill Janman, an investor who lost nearly $3 million in the fraud.

"We actually stayed in the courtroom until we saw the sheriffs take him out through the back door, where they take prisoners out."

Although Base Financial began operating in the late 1980s and took investors' money for more than 30 years, the time period considered by the courts was over 16 months, from May 2014 to September 2015.

Investment losses in Base Finance totalled more than $100 million, but much of that falls outside the offence dates.

"There was no way to recover from the loss," said Janman, who is in his 70s.

'Nothing but a big Ponzi scheme'

In 1999, Janman knew someone who had invested in Base Finance mortgages. He met with Breitkreutz, put money into the company and got some back. He also received interest cheques. 

"Over time, we started to loan more," said Janman, who was trying to build his retirement savings.

In 2016, Base Financial was put into receivership and "everybody's world came to an end," said Janman.

"That's when we found out it was nothing, it was nothing but a big Ponzi scheme, and everything that everybody had invested was gone."

Despite claiming he did not intentionally mislead investors, Breitkreutz knew he was "deceiving" those who had put their trust, and money, in the business owner, Feasby ruled.

"Mr. Breitkreutz knew he was gambling with his investors' money in ways, and with risks, they did not understand and had not agreed to."

'Among the worst frauds' 

In 2019, the Alberta Securities Commission (ASC) ordered Breitkreutz and his office manager, Susan Elizabeth Way, to repay nearly $4 million. 

At the time, the ASC called the scheme "among the worst frauds perpetrated in Alberta."

Breitkreutz and Base Finance Ltd. were permanently banned from trading or purchasing securities after being convicted of contravening the Securities Act.

Many of the investors deceived by Breitkreutz and Way were seniors.

Last year, Way was sentenced to three years in prison after pleading guilty for her role in the fraud.

A date for Breitkreutz's sentencing will be set next month. 

Prosecutor Brian Holtby indicated that, based on similar cases, the appropriate range is between seven and 12 years in prison.

Defence lawyer Cale Ellis-Toddington did not indicate what he plans to seek for a sentence.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Meghan Grant

CBC Calgary crime reporter

Meghan Grant is a justice affairs reporter. She has been covering courts, crime and stories of police accountability in southern Alberta for more than a decade. Send Meghan a story tip at meghan.grant@cbc.ca or follow her on Twitter.

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