Six-year prison sentence for former B.C. notary who masterminded 'massive fraud'

VANCOUVER – A judge who sentenced a former British Columbia notary to six years in prison says she abused her position of trust by luring people into a Ponzi scheme that defrauded investors of millions of dollars and destabilized Canada’s capital markets.

“She knew exactly what she was doing and went forward with her eyes wide open,” provincial court judge Gregory Rideout said Wednesday, moments before Rashida Samji was led away in handcuffs.

Rideout said it was “startling” that Samji took advantage of a family member among the investors she bilked and even recruited a financial adviser to enlist investors who were customers at the Coast Capital Savings credit union.

Samji, 63, pleaded guilty in May to 28 counts of fraud and theft but 14 counts of theft were stayed.

That was after she launched a failed charter challenge arguing that a criminal proceeding would amount to double jeopardy because the B.C. Securities Commission had already levelled a $33-million fine against her.

“Those sanctions will hang over her head for the rest of her life,” Rideout said, adding Samji has been working as a front-desk clerk at a hotel after the Society of Notaries Public of B.C. terminated her membership, refusing to accept her resignation.

Rideout also ordered Samji to pay $10.5 million in restitution to her victims, saying they’ll never live with the comforts she enjoyed after bilking them through an elaborate, deliberate and pre-meditated scheme.

Crown lawyer Kevin Marks had asked for a seven- to eight-year sentence while Samji’s defence lawyer called for a term of four to five years.

Marks said outside court that Samji may never be able to repay the investors she scammed but the judge’s order serves as a deterrent.

“When you’re dealing with a massive fraud, not withstanding a person having the means to pay restitution or not, it’s important for the court to provide restitution,” he said.

The B.C. Securities Commission found in July 2014 that Samji and two companies she controlled committed a $100-million fraud involving over 200 investors.

Court heard Samji collected money ranging from $50,000 to $12 million from the 28 investors between 2003 and 2012.

They lost between $44,000 and $8 million each, Marks said.

He told the court during Samji’s sentencing hearing Tuesday that the victims who suffered physical, emotional and financial hardships had no idea she was paying them with their own money instead of up to 12 per cent a year in interest.

The Mark Anthony Group, which hired Samji as a notary, was also unaware it had become embroiled in the scheme that had Samji telling investors the company was expanding its winery operations to South Africa and South America, court heard.

While Samji may have orchestrated the Ponzi scheme after going into debt, she continued it after paying off the money, only stopping when her scheme came to light and her bank account was frozen, Rideout said.

He noted Samji has endured some hardships before hatching the scheme, including breast cancer, followed by depression and a failed attempt to end her life by taking sleeping pills.

Her mother died in 2007, and a brother who was a pilot was killed in a crash in B.C.’s Okanagan region in 2012, he said.

However, Rideout said the depth of Samji’s deception for nine years affected so many lives, including a woman who continues to have panic attacks and whose husband is Samji’s first cousin.

She said in her victim impact statement that Samji “screwed them over and out of their hard-earned savings,” Rideout said.

— Follow @CamilleBains1 on Twitter.