Nfld. & Labrador

Fraud, forgery scheme lands former real estate agent in jail

Over the next year, a former realtor will show nothing more than the inside of a prison cell for faking the sale of houses to get advances on commissions he didn’t make.

Cecil Burke, 53, deceived a lending agency into advancing him short-term loans on fake transactions

Cecil Burke was formerly a Remax real estate agent. (CBC)

Over the next year, a former realtor will show nothing more than the inside of a prison cell for faking the sale of houses to get advances on commission he didn't make.

Cecil Burke, 53, falsified eight purchase and sale agreements between 2009 and 2011, forging buyers' signatures, making up their mortgage approvals and carrying out a "complex and sophisticated scheme," according to court documents.

He was convicted on three counts of fraud and forgery on June 21, and sentenced July 21 after a trial in the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Cecil Burke, 53, formerly worked for Remax in Newfoundland and Labrador. (Submitted)

For each fake sale, Burke would create a document package that varied from house to house but typically included the sale agreement, a trade record sheet, a receipt of funds record and proof of financing.

That package would then go through Burke's employer, Remax, and on to the payday loan-type business, Equity Financial Inc.

"If there was the appearance of a binding sale agreement with no outstanding conditions, then Equity would generally approve the loan," court documents say.

In total, Burke swindled $65,331.12.

"The fraudulent scheme had no prospect of going undetected because none of the transactions were legitimate," wrote the judge.

"The arrival of the scheduled closing dates for each transaction, without repayment of the loans, would eventually expose the crimes."

To delay the "inevitable," Burke created fake amending agreements with new closing dates, but that only bought so much time.

'Ongoing deception'

After the initial complaint to police, Burke emailed the owner of the loan company and wrote, "The worst case scenario is that [if] I was found guilty I would get the customary legal rap on the knuckles and probably be ordered to repay money over the next 7-10 years."

It was not a one-time moment of weakness. It was an ongoing deception.- Justice William Goodridge

The Crown argued that the correspondence showed Burke didn't understand the severity of his crimes and should go to jail to deter others from repeating similar offences.

In his oral submission to the court, Burke asked not to go to jail telling the judge he'd get a job and repay the money. He said he didn't have a criminal record and added he has a sick wife and child at home.

David Rowe, one of the officers of Equity, testified that the loan company was an "important source of income to the main shareholder Jonathan Rowe." He said Burke's crime against the family-run business created financial hardship for Jonathan Rowe.

Burke faked eight purchase and sale agreements. (Mike Cassese/Reuters)

"It was not a one-time moment of weakness. It was an ongoing deception repeated several times during the years 2009, 2010 and 2011," wrote Justice William Goodridge in handing down sentence.

"This was a serious and deliberate breach of trust within an industry that relies heav[ily] on trust and ethical conduct."

He sentenced Burke to a year in a penitentiary and two years of probation. Burke was also ordered to pay back $35,821.85 — the outstanding balance on the loans, not including interest — and pay a $300 victim surcharge.