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Seeking justice for a serial fraudster

A criminal investigator at the BC Securities Commission took the call from a Vancouver lawyer in May 2016.

The lawyer’s client, an electrician in northern B.C., wanted legal advice about a suspect investment he made with a man named James Minnie.

The lawyer and the BCSC investigator agreed: The electrician’s story might point to a crime.

The tale, relayed by the electrician over the phone and then during an in-person interview at the Prince George RCMP Detachment, bore the classic signs of investment fraud: Minnie promised high returns and a quick payout with the riches flowing from obscure ventures in faraway places.

A first conviction

It began with Minnie’s pitch to raise money for a lumber harvesting operation in Papua New Guinea. The electrician learned about the opportunity from a fellow electrician in the area, who had already invested in it.

But the lumber investment didn’t pan out and the easy money never materialized.

Minnie was convicted of fraud and theft, sentenced to five years in prison in provincial court and banned for life from trading in securities by the BCSC.

That didn’t stop Minnie.

From Papua New Guinea to Venezuela

About a decade later, he doubled down, telling the electricians that their original investment had been transferred to a “Venezuelan hedge fund,” and the fund needed additional money to liquidate.

Minnie claimed they could get all their money back from the original lumber scheme, and then some, if they ponied up more money for the hedge fund’s liquidation expenses.

The electricians, looking to recoup their original losses and pick up some additional profits from the hedge fund, together gave Minnie well over half a million dollars this time around.

But the hedge fund was a complete fiction. Minnie spent almost all the money on personal expenses, including stays at luxury accommodations, restaurant meals and liquor, along with other retail purchases and cash withdrawals.

Canvassing Vancouver Island

After amassing enough evidence about Minnie’s misdeeds, the BCSC recommended to the B.C. Prosecution Service that he be charged with criminal fraud. On October 16, 2017, charges of criminal fraud were laid.

But there was still the small matter of tracking Minnie down and taking him into custody. The electricians had no idea where he lived or worked, apart from vague claims Minnie made about living on Vancouver Island. But evidence gathered during the investigation pointed to where Minnie regularly lived, ate, shopped and banked.

Armed with this intelligence and a photo of Minnie provided by one of his victims, BCSC investigators headed to Vancouver Island to canvass the numerous locations in the Parksville and Victoria areas he liked to frequent.

The BCSC investigators struck paydirt at the first place they visited – a tip from a Parksville local confirmed that Minnie was staying in a cabin near the beach.

Taken into custody

Then came the stake-out: Hiding in cars and behind some trees near the cabin in question, the investigators waited to make a visual ID.

It took only a few hours for a man matching their photo, dressed in sweatpants and a t-shirt, to emerge. The investigators called in the local police, who led Minnie away in handcuffs.

Minnie did not apply for bail and spent 3½ years in jail awaiting trial. Ultimately, he pleaded guilty to two counts of fraud, was sentenced to 4½ years in prison (including time served), and was ordered to pay his victims a total of $543,220 in restitution.