Two B.C. men accused of a multi-million dollar fraud scheme have been ordered extradited to face trial in the United States, where they could face up to 20 years in prison.
Courtney “Court” Vasseur and Curtis Lehner are both facing charges of conspiracy to commit securities fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, multiple counts of securities fraud, and conspiracy to commit money laundering in the United States, the result of an FBI investigation.
Both men are expected to appeal the extradition ruling. Persons charged with a criminal offence are considered not guilty until the charges are proven in court.
The charges stem from an alleged “pump and dump” stock fraud scheme organized by at least nine people, four of whom have been charged.
Vasseur, Lehner, German-Turkish citizen Hasan Sario, and Domenic Calabrigo, a Canadian living in the Bahamas, were all accused of an alleged conspiracy to manipulate the stock of at least nine U.S.-based companies, resulting in proceeds for the four men of about $35 million, according to a U.S. Justice Department indictment.
Several of the charges carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
The B.C. Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit (CFSEU) has identified Vasseur as a Hells Angel and a member of the gang’s elite Nomad chapter.
The FBI investigation claimed that Lehner went by the alias of Santa, while Vasseur was known by a variety of identities, including Black Water Resource Management, Cyrill Vetsch, and Arctic Shark.
The charges stem from alleged stock manipulation of a string of nine companies that were ostensibly in various businesses – ranging from mineral exploration to insomnia treatment to drone-based home security to developing medical diagnostic equipment.
In truth, most were shell companies, with little in the way of resources or business operations.
The companies were low-value and none traded on major stock exchanges – they all traded “over the counter” via networks of brokers. Such stocks are often known as penny stocks.
After gaining control of the companies by buying up most or all of the stock in each firm, the accused allegedly had company management issue press releases filled with false statements.
Vasseur was singled out in the indictment as one of the alleged conspirators who “reviewed, edited, and approved the content in these public announcements” said the indictment.
The group also allegedly made fake trades among themselves and accounts they controlled to drive up the stock price and make it appear there was more interest in the companies than really existed.
They allegedly spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on extensive stock promotion campaigns.
“At times, the group used the proceeds they had generated from the manipulation of one company’s shares in order to finance the stock promotion of the next company whose shares they sought to manipulate,” the indictment said.
Money for these schemes was transferred through Singapore and various Swiss accounts.
Having boosted the value of the essentially worthless companies, the stock was sold off to unwitting investors. Shortly afterwards, the value of the stocks plunged.
The scheme took place from 2013 to the end of 2018.
Neither Lehner nor Vasseur has been convicted of a crime in British Columbia.
However, Vasseur worked for several years as an employee of Matthew Brooks and Kirk Roberts, Langley residents who were convicted in a $6 million bank fraud that came to light around 2008. Brooks was sentenced to three and a half years in prison in 2017 after pleading guilty; Roberts was sentenced to 18 months of house arrest as part of a two-year conditional sentence.
When he spoke to the Langley Advance Times in 2022, Brooks was adamant that Vasseur was not involved in the bank fraud.
“He doesn’t have any of that money,” Brooks said.
In 2013, Vasseur was charged with possession for the purpose of trafficking, after a bizarre incident in which his Cadillac Escalade, driven by Craig Leonard Retvedt, crashed into the back of a TransLink bus in Vancouver. Both men were unconscious and in need of medical attention, having apparently been overcome by powdered fentanyl from an open baggie that was found sitting in a console between the seats.
The judge in the case noted that one of the men was definitely the owner of the fentanyl, but there was no evidence to say which one – both were found not guilty.
Lehner was previously a senior executive with Eron Mortgage Corporation, holding a post as a vice-president in the 1990s. Former Eron president Brian Slobogian, and vice-president Frank Biller, eventually pleaded guilty to a fraud that swindled 3,200 investors, most in B.C., out of $170 million.
Lehner was not charged in relation to the Eron fraud.
The two suspects were expected to remain free on bail pending an appeal hearing.
This article was originally sourced from www.LangleyAdvanceTimes.com