Alberta Securities Commission levies $54 million in fines in 'massive' fraud

CALGARY – An Alberta Securities Commission panel has slapped fines totalling nearly $54 million on three Calgary businessmen and the companies they led — the largest financial penalty levied by the market watchdog in any one case.

“All of the respondents were involved in perpetrating a systemic massive fraud on Alberta and other investors, involving a complicated web of domestic and offshore corporate and other entities, bank accounts and offerings,” the commission said in a release Friday.

“Investment fraud is reprehensible and completely unacceptable capital-market misconduct; instances of fraud in the capital market severely threaten the public’s confidence and sense of fairness in the whole of our capital market.”

The case centres around a now-defunct company called Arbour Energy, which the ASC says illegally raised $45.5 million from investors.

Arbour was led by Dennis Morice, who according to the ASC decision, considered himself a “bit player” and “cog” in a scheme led by Milowe Brost and Gary Sorenson — two men charged in a separate high-profile alleged Ponzi scheme in 2009.

Morice faces the smallest penalty of the three men — a $150,000 fine, an order to pay $50,000 to cover the cost of the investigation and hearing and a variety of bans.

Arbour itself faces no financial penalties, but it’s been barred from trading in and purchasing securities, among other things.

In its decision, the ASC said Brost’s misconduct was “the most egregious” of the three men. Brost led the The Institute For Financial Learning, which he claimed was an “information club” but the ASC contends was really used to sell investors stock in Arbour and other entities connected to Brost.

Brost has been fined $3 million and ordered to pay $85,000 in costs — the second-highest fine against an individual in ASC history.

IFFL must pay back $10 million of the funds it gained from the fraud and pay $85,000 in costs.

“We conclude that Brost has not recognized the seriousness of his misconduct and the devastating consequences that he caused to Alberta and other investors. These circumstances heighten the need for severe sanction,” the ASC panel said in its decision.

Sorenson led a private Alberta junior mining company called Merendon, which the ASC said was a “participant in — and a significant beneficiary of — a massive complex securities fraud.”

The ASC said Merendon was used as a vehicle to receive and disburse investor money.

“Clearly his was egregious behaviour, although not to the same extent as Brost’s and IFFL’s misconduct — Sorenson did not have the same direct contact with investors as did Brost and IFFL and was not found to have contravened multiple provisions of Alberta securities laws.”

Sorenson has been fined $2 million and has been ordered to pay $70,000 in costs. Merendon must pay the $38.6 million it made from the fraud to the ASC and $70,000 in costs.

In a separate case, Brost and Sorenson were arrested in 2009 for what police have called “the largest Ponzi-type scheme” in Canadian history. Investigators have said investors around the world were bilked out of $400 million.