Edmonton

Edmonton fraudster Michael Ritter's company surfaces in leaked Panama Papers

Notorious Edmonton fraudster and con man Michael Ritter figures prominently as one of the Canadian connections to what have become internationally known as the Panama Papers, the largest ever leak of records from an offshore tax haven.

Newport Pacific created 60 offshore companies through Mossack Fonseca law firm

The Panama papers reveal convicted Edmonton fraudster Michael Ritter, now known as Adam Rohan, created 60 offshore companies. None of the companies are associated with his past criminal behaviour. (CBC)

Notorious Edmonton fraudster and con man Michael Ritter figures prominently as one of the Canadian connections to what have become internationally known as the Panama Papers, the largest ever leak of records from an offshore tax haven.

The paper trail reveals Ritter's arrest by the RCMP in October 2005 effectively ended his relationship with Mossack Fonseca, the huge Panamanian law firm that registered offshore shell companies his firm created for rich clients and corporations.

"We have just received word from a client of Mike Ritter that he is in jail awaiting trial on an unknown charge, has been denied bail, and his offshore operation in Edmonton has been closed down. Possibly U.S. authorities investigating money laundering," said the Oct. 24, 2005 email to the law firm from a competitor of Ritter's Edmonton company, Newport Pacific Financial.

Mindful of the "bad publicity this could bring us," the law firm acted immediately.
Michael Ritter, now known as Adam Rohan, in a 2001 photo taken in Ritter’s kitchen. Ritter made several legal trips to Switzerland with clients’ cash to be deposited in a Zurich bank. None of the money shown was associated with the involvement of Ritter's company, Newport Pacfic Financial with Mossack Fonseca, a Panamanian law firm. (Supplied to CBC)

Ritter and Newport Pacific were "blacklisted" and Mossack Fonseca resigned as the registry agent for the 60 companies created by Newport Pacific, and its predecessor company, Canadian Offshore Financial, in the tax havens of the British Virgin Islands, the Bahamas, and Niue, a small island nation in the South Pacific.

Newport Pacific is fourth on the list of Canada's biggest creators of offshore companies, as revealed in a joint CBC News - Toronto Star investigation based on exclusive access to the Panama Papers.

Dating back to 1977, the records are from Mossack Fonseca, a Panamanian law firm. With 500 staff working in more than 40 countries, it is one of the world's top creators of shell companies: corporate structures that can be used to hide ownership of assets.

German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung obtained the files from a source and shared them with global media partners, including CBC News and the Toronto Star, through the Washington-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

Nothing in the documents reveal any illegal activity by Ritter, his firm or Mossack Fonseca. His previous legal issues are not related to his business with the Panamanian law firm.

Fake lawyer duped Alberta legislature

Ritter served as Alberta's chief parliamentary counsel from 1987 to 1993, and was widely acknowledged as an expert in parliamentary rules and procedures. Well versed - apparently - in the arcane law of establishing offshore trusts for tax purposes, Ritter formed Canadian Offshore Financial a few months after resigning his job at the legislature.

At one point, Ritter publicly boasted of having more than 120 clients with offshore accounts holding more than a billion dollars. He personally flew some of that money to Switzerland on behalf of clients.

Court records show the RCMP executed its first search warrant in relation to Ritter and his business in 2002. But it wasn't until October of 2006 that his carefully crafted image as a legal expert, globe-trotting businessman, and patron of the arts finally collapsed under the weight of his many lies.

To avoid extradition to the United States, Ritter plead guilty to stealing $10.5 million US from a client, a New York whiz-kid, energy trader who had himself stolen the money from his employer, Merrill Lynch.

The court case also revealed Ritter had participated in, and helped perpetuate, a Ponzi scheme in Los Angeles that bilked 6,500 investors out of more than $270 million US.

But perhaps his biggest con was perpetrated on the Alberta legislature. Because as the court heard, Ritter had never, as he claimed, graduated from law at the London School of Economics and was not a lawyer.

Changes name, becomes academic

Sentenced to 10 years in prison, Ritter served just 18 months before he was granted day parole in 2008, and by the end of 2009 he was on full parole, with a new name.

The 59-year-old Ritter became  Adam Michael Philipp Rohan, and has reinvented his life as an academic: an expert in the movement of offshore wealth.

Rohan is now a doctoral student at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby after successfully completing a master's degree at  Athabasca University, an Alberta distance-learning institution.

His masters' thesis states: "Empirical evidence suggests that the extent of money laundering has been greatly exaggerated, and new regulations have made little, if any, difference in the criminal behaviours targeted."

In an exchange of emails with CBC News and The Star, Rohan said it was no secret his firm had created offshore corporations through Mossack Fonseca. But he said these corporations served "only a few foreign clients (mostly corporate) who had hundreds of different investments in other parts of the world."

Rohan also said he knew "as a fact that CRA (the Canada Revenue Agency) has looked over all files and client lists taken from my office by the RCMP back in 2002, and the CRA received all subsequent documents through a plea agreement of cooperation.

"I have spoken personally to the CRA about a small number of my former clients, and understand there were no revelations or charges arising from that information because most clients actually lost money in certain business ventures," his email stated.

The internal documents from Mossack Fonseca show Newport Pacific continued to register companies up until 2005.

Rohan said he automatically ceased to act for anyone the moment he was arrested and taken into custody in 2005. He said he never acted for, or had been a director, in any offshore company.

Ritter concerned publicity will jeopardize rehabilitation

In the email exchanges, Rohan repeatedly railed against what he views as the misguided, judgmental reporting about the offshore tax industry.

There is a presumption that all or most offshore clients are in fact doing something "wrong" or "immoral," he wrote.

"There are abuses of course, sometimes quite egregious ones, but the fact is that the vast majority of offshore clients are people who have used their own tax-paid money to take advantage of legal techniques to protect their privacy and even reduce (but usually just to defer) taxation on any foreign source income."

Rohan complained that CBC News and The Star seem unconcerned about his rehabilitation and the potential negative effect on his new career.

"When you have been over‐exposed in the media as I was in years past, the public will simply see a poor attempt to re‐hash a story that had legs over a decade ago," he wrote.

"In any event, as much you seem to care not at all for destroying one's academic research and relationships, I will survive."
Valerie Atkinson of Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif. and her husband lost their life savings in a Ponzi scheme that involved former Edmonton resident Michael Ritter. She is astounded Ritter was allowed to change his name while still on parole. (CBC)

Valerie Atkinson is astonished by the gall of the man she knew as Michael Ritter.

During his involvement with the American Ponzi scheme, Ritter, now Rohan, personally persuaded Atkinson and her husband, Peter Kjellberg, of Rancho Palos Verdes, a Los Angeles suburb, to keep their life savings in what he told them was a legitimate business enterprise.

They lost it all, and now well past retirement age, they are both still working.

In a 2013 interview at her Los Angeles home, Atkinson laughed bitterly when told how Ritter had changed his name while he was still on parole, and moved on with his life.

"I am sorry I am laughing; it is not funny but it is just astounding to me that the authorities even allow that," she said.

"And that he can stay in the same place and do it.  I mean, I could believe it more if he went to another country and had a new identity.  

"But he's in the same community.  And people know that he has lied.  And they will still believe in him.  That's astonishing."

@charlesrusnell

@jennierussell

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