RCMP allege obstruction in Fortress fraud investigation
Officers ask judge for OK to pull employee over in traffic stop to seize missing hard drive
RCMP believe "key evidence" in its investigation into syndicated mortgage fraud was deliberately hidden during an April raid of Fortress Real Developments' Richmond Hill, Ont. headquarters, according to an application to obtain a search warrant.
An anonymous tipster who worked for one of the six targeted companies told police that Charene Bunnett, a manager of operations for Building & Development Mortgages Canada, hid her laptop and external drive while officers were searching the office building. The equipment was never found during the initial search.
Police say Bunnett "is believed to be close to the operating minds of Fortress Real Capital/Fortress Real Developments Syndicated Mortgages, [CEO Jawad] Rathore and [COO Vince] Petrozza." An unidentified broker told police she "was involved in everything."
"Investigators believe that Bunnett intentionally obstructed police officers during their execution of the search warrant," wrote RCMP Const. Martin Williamson in an application to a judge.
Williamson filed a search warrant application seeking permission to stop Bunnett's car, search her clothing, her purse, bags and her entire vehicle. He was also seeking internal surveillance video of her office the day the search warrant was executed.
Officers believe she carries the external hard drive to and from work.
"I can't comment on untested allegations since the investigation is not over. But I am looking forward to telling our side of it," said Bunnett's lawyer Frank Addario.
Building & Development Mortgages Canada's lawyer did not respond immediately to a request for comment.
"It is false to suggest that any employee at Fortress in any way hid evidence or obstructed justice. Nothing could be further from the truth," wrote Fortress lawyer Scott K. Fenton.
None of the allegations in the search warrant have been proven in court and no charges have been laid.
RCMP reveal evidence from raid
Inflated property values are one of the key allegations in this syndicated mortgage investigation.
This new search warrant delves into the financial details of the shelved SkyCity Centre condo project which was supposed to rise at the corner of Graham Avenue and Smith Street.
The RCMP describe documents they seized which estimate the value of the parking lot where the 45-storey tower was supposed to be built.
One document from 2013 values the land "as is" at $5.9 million.
Police allege investor documents they have seen estimate the property values as follows:
- 2013: $18 million.
- 2014: $25 million.
- 2017: $37.5 million.
"In 2018, an appraisal was obtained by Fortress Real Developments ... placed the value of the property at $7,300,000," said police, based on an interview with an unnamed person.
Police believe this information supports the investigative theory that inflated "as is" land valuations have been provided to investors. "There is a serious risk of detriment to the financial and real estate markets as the result of the above noted actions," wrote Williamson in the search warrant document.
- Investors in SkyCity Centre development owed interest as bonds default
- Allegations of inflated property values at centre of RCMP syndicated mortgage fraud investigation
Fortress lawyer Scott K. Fenton stressed that syndicate mortgage investors were told of all the risks by the licenced mortgage brokers they dealt with.
"All investors were fully advised in writing of the assumptions and methodologies used by respected industry valuators in the development-based 'opinions of value' for the projects as opposed to bare 'as is' appraisals as incorrectly alleged by the RCMP. Further, the opinions of value were provided to the investors," wrote Fenton.
He pointed to 30 successful projects, resulting in the repayment of nearly a quarter billion dollars to syndicated mortgage investors, which he says reflects a track record of success.