Barrie man charged with $56 million Ponzi scheme involving debit card terminals

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Barrie (September 16, 2020) – The OPP charged the Barrie man, Charles Debono, with fraud, bribery, money laundering, and forgery for an alleged $56 million Ponzi scheme, which supposedly defrauded hundreds of victims over six years. The ‘landmark international fraud investigation’ revealed that his victims allegedly invested in debit card terminals from the company ‘Debit Direct’. However, the point of sale terminals never existed and the ‘profits’ they received were allegedly money from other investors. Ontario’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO) obtained Debono’s return from the Dominican Republic to Canada, where he was arrested by the OPP upon arrival.

The OPP laid charges in what police are calling ‘a landmark international fraud investigation’, according to a press release issued by the provincial police. Charles Debono from Barrie was deported to Canada from the Dominican Republic to face fraud, bribery, money-laundering and forgery charges in connection with a $56 million Ponzi scheme.

The $56 million Ponzi scheme

Police say, that the scheme originated in 2012 in Barrie. The victims who came forward to the police explained that they believed they were buying the debit card terminals from a company called ‘Debit Direct’ as a legitimate investment opportunity. The terminals were supposed to be placed in businesses across Canada and the United States. They were allegedly promised to receive a royalty of 15 cents-per-transaction on each purchase made via the terminals.

The police determined that the terminals never existed and that the money the victims received, which they believed were profits from their investment, was actually money obtained from new investors following the usual pattern of a Ponzi scheme.

A Ponzi scheme is a form of fraud that lures investors by paying profits to early investors with profits from more recent investors.

Defrauding hundreds of victims out of millions

About 515 alleged victims have come forward to nine different police agencies across Canada. The authorities identified Toronto, Calgary, and Barrie police services among those who received victim complaints.

In March 2018, the investigation was referred to the OPP Anti-Rackets Branch and was later transferred to the newly established Serious Fraud Office (SFO). The landmark international fraud investigation determined that the 515 victims suffered losses totaling more than $24 million. Investigators believe that Debono collected more than $56 million from victims who believed they were participating in a legitimate investment opportunity during the six-year-period of the scheme.

The SFO said, they restrained approximately $1.5 million in Canada as proceeds of crime, while similar measures are being sought in other countries. Furthermore, they stated that restitution is also being sought on behalf of the victims.

Read more: Oshawa man faces fraud charges for refund scam

An online news site based in Santo Domingo ‘Dominican Today’ reported that Debono and his wife allegedly laundered the money generated in the scheme in Dominican territory through investments in hotels and fast-food centers as well as through the acquisition of luxury vehicles and real estate. The news site also published that the couple was netted in a series of raids in Barahona, Boca Chica, and the National District by the Dominican Specialized Anti-Money Laundering and Terrorism Financing Office, the National Police as well as Interpol.

Deported to Canada from the Dominican Republic

The OPP reported that the 62-year-old Barrie man has been deported to Canada from the Dominican Republic and was arrested by the OPP upon arrival in connection with the $56 million Ponzi scheme. He has been charged with Fraud Over $5,000, Laundering Proceeds of Crime, Bribery of Agent, Personation with Intent as well as Use, Deals, Acts on Forged Document. Debono was scheduled to appear at the Ontario Court of Justice In Barrie on September 14.

The SFO encourages any victims of this crime to provide their information to the victim-focused SFO team at sfo.project.debitdirect@ontariosfo.ca. Ontario’s SFO is a multi-disciplinary team of uniform and civilian subject matter experts who investigate and prosecute serious fraud and complex financial crimes.