Barrie, Ont., man sentenced for masterminding landmark Ponzi scheme

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The mastermind of an elaborate Ponzi scheme that cheated hundreds of people of tens of millions of dollars was sentenced Tuesday in a Barrie, Ont., courtroom to seven years in jail.

Charles Debono has been behind bars since his arrest in 2020 for his role in one of the largest Ponzi schemes in Canadian history.

Earlier this year, the 63-year-old Barrie man pleaded guilty to money laundering and fraud.

The maximum penalty under the law is 14 years.

Crown attorney Patrick Travers said he was pleased with the judge’s decision.

“Seven years under Canadian law is actually a very significant sentence,” he said.

The Crown told the court Debono promised investors in his bogus debit machine business a 15-cent return on every transaction and that the scheme, involving more than 500 victims, led to more than $29 million in losses for investors.

Victim impact statements read to the court cited Debono’s scheme brought on feelings of shame and regret for duped investors. Victims experienced financial and personal ruin, ending marriages and halting retirement plans.

In her sentencing decision, Justice Michelle Fuerst said Debono had “high moral blameworthiness,” cheating investors of their life savings so he could live a life of luxury.

The judge outlined Debono’s deliberate scheme, including falsification and destruction of records after he took the money and fled the country.

He was ordered to pay a fine of roughly $27 million in lieu of forfeiture within five years of his release. Failure to do so will land him in jail for another seven years.

Travers said the sentence may not seem harsh enough to some Canadians given “the degree of devastation among the victims” but noted that in Canada, a guilty plea is “very mitigating.”

Debono’s plea and previously clean criminal record mean he could be out by fall 2026.

Upon his eventual release, Debono is banned from seeking employment involving handling other people’s money.