Crown asks for four-year sentence for real estate swindler

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Crown prosecutors have asked an Ottawa judge to impose a four-year sentence on a smooth-talking real estate investor who bilked 17 people — some of them friends — in a fraudulent scheme to build and flip townhomes.

“Mr. “(Jim) Pellerin doesn’t have a gambling issue, he doesn’t have a substance abuse issue, he has a greed issue,” Crown attorney François Dulude told court Friday.

“I submit to you that was his sole motivation: advancing his own finances,” Dulude said.

James Edward “Jim” Pellerin, 68, a real estate investor who authored several books on the subject, was found guilty in February of 13 counts of fraud over $5,000 and one of obtaining money under false pretenses.

Court heard he deceived investors in a failed scheme to buy and flip units in a new townhouse development in Carleton Place.

Pellerin oversold the 12-unit development, which collapsed in 2017. Court heard he knowingly sold individual units to two investors, deceived people about the security of their investments and lied to them about the status of the project.

“For most of these victims and investors, he was a friend of theirs,” Dulude said.

Defence lawyer Bruce Engel told court that a sentence of 12 to 18 months would be more appropriate given Pellerin’s lack of criminal record and his advanced age.

Born in Moncton and educated at the University of New Brunswick, Pellerin moved to Ottawa in 1984. He worked as an IT consultant for the federal government while building a reputation as a savvy real estate investor.

Engel said his client would repay his victims if he could, but he was now living rent-free in his sister-in-law’s house.

The scheme for which Pellerin was convicted, Engel noted, was not a Ponzi scheme or a pyramid scheme designed from the start to bilk investors. It was simply a real estate deal gone bad, Engel argued.

“I maintain, unlike a lot of other offenders convicted of fraud, Mr. Pellerin’s initial intention was to make that project work,” he said.

Engel said his client lost everything when the project fell apart. “I can tell the court he’s sorry, he’s apologetic, and, if he had the money, he’d repay all the victims.”

The Crown asked the judge to impose a full restitution order in the case to repay all victims for their losses.

Superior Court Justice Robert J. Smith reserved his decision. He will deliver Pelletier’s sentence on April 26.

Earlier Friday, a dozen victims told court about the emotional and financial toll of the real estate fraud, which cost investors a total of $600,000. They described bitter disappointments, sleepless nights and delayed retirements.

Maurice Bouchard of Russell, a former IT director of Kingston General Hospital, said he invested in the scheme after Pellerin visited his home to sell him on the idea in February 2017.

By that time, Bouchard told court, Pellerin “knew full well the project was dead in the water.”

After Pellerin picked up the $30,000 cheque, he ignored dozens of subsequent emails and phone calls, Bouchard said, as the development project collapsed.

Bouchard, who has Parkinson’s disease, said the loss devastated him and required his wife, Denyse Lalonde, to work for another five years to rebuild their finances.

“You caused a lot of sleepless nights,” Bouchard told Pellerin. “You showed total disregard for your actions. Now it’s time for retribution. Apologies won’t suffice.”

Fumiko Yamada of Orléans, a federal civil servant, said she believed Pellerin was trustworthy because of his published books and his decades of experience in the real estate industry.

In June 2016, Yamada said, she invested $30,000 in the Carleton Place project, expecting a 20-per-cent return within nine months. Instead, she learned in August 2017 that the project had collapsed and her money was gone.

Yamada said the financial “disaster” made her depressed and required her to work an extra three years to rebuild her savings.

Retiree Claude Pilon of Orléans said his experience with Pellerin left him feeling “deceived, ashamed and violated.”

“I considered him a friend,” Pilon said. “I went into a sort of depression and all I could think of was how I was betrayed — and wonder if I would ever trust anyone again.”

Pilon said he had planned to use the $30,000 he invested with Pellerin to help his daughter buy a house.

This article was originally sourced from www.OttawaCitizen.com