Edmonton

St. Albert businessman sentenced to 7 years for massive Ponzi scheme

A St. Albert businessman convicted of fraud in a multi-million dollar Ponzi scheme was sentenced Wednesday to seven years in prison and ordered to pay $5.8 million in restitution.

'He fooled everybody because he's an easy going, nice talking, smooth guy,' one victim tells CBC News

A St. Albert businessman who defrauded more than 80 people was sent to prison Wednesday. (CBC)

A St. Albert businessman convicted of fraud in a multi-million dollar Ponzi scheme has been sentenced to seven years in prison and ordered to pay $5.8 million in restitution.

Wade Closson pleaded guilty earlier this year to 53 counts of fraud over $5,000. He was sentenced Wednesday in Edmonton's Court of Queen's Bench.

"It could have been more," said Rick Belleperche, who lost nearly all of his pension in the investment scam. "It should been more."

Belleperche, who broke down crying in court as he read his victim impact statement before the judge, was among more than 80 people victimized by Closson between 2005 and 2013, 

"It is what it is, and I don't think there will ever be restitution," he said. "At least he's not out screwing anyone else." 

Closson was a master manipulator, Belleperche said Wednesday morning in an interview with CBC Radio's Edmonton AM.

"He would use one investor's money to pay another investor money, so it all looked like it was good. We were getting our money and everything seemed fine.

"He fooled everybody, because he's an easy going, nice talking, smooth guy. And you just wouldn't doubt him for a minute."

Closson, 47, ran two financial companies: Optam Holdings Inc. and Infinivest Mortgage Investment Company.

He would use funds from Infinivest to pay off investors in Optam, creating the illusion that he was raking in huge returns.

He was able to raise more than $10 million before Optam went bankrupt in 2013, triggering an investigation by the Alberta Securities Commission and the RCMP.

'He knew what he was doing'

Belleperche wants to see Closson punished for his crimes. If Closson can't repay his victims, he should spend a long time in prison.

"It's unfortunate, because he has a wife, he has young kids. But he hurt so many families and they were struggling," Belleperche said.

"He took 28 years of my life away."

Belleperche, 70, was introduced to Closson through work. After 28 years as a Greyhound bus driver, he entrusted his RRSP to the scheme.

In the end, he lost nearly $365,000 to Closson. The fraud has left him financially unprepared to deal with a string of personal tragedies.

He was injured in a serious motorcycle accident and diagnosed with liver and colon cancer. He's anxiously awaiting the results of a prostate cancer test.  He fears he may lose his house. Now, his wife is sick.

Despite his poor health, he's been forced to delay his retirement. 

"I'm back working. I had never planned on working and actually it's been very stressful, because I went through really bad sicknesses and I'm waiting to hear about my prostate cancer.

"My wife is going through breast cancer, radiation and everything else. It's been pretty tough."

Belleperche said he's selling off his prized Harley Davidson motorcycles just to pay the bills.

Since losing his life savings, he has been unable to visit his 13 great-grandchildren in Ontario, or afford to buy them Christmas gifts.

"That's what really, really hurts the most."