Prosecutor calls fraudster’s plan to repay victims ‘the stuff of delusions’

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A Nova Scotia fraudster’s plan to pay back more than 200 investment scam victims using trillion-dollar banknotes from Zimbabwe is “the stuff of delusions,” a prosecutor told a Halifax judge at a hearing this week to determine if he should be sent to prison.

Crown attorney Shauna MacDonald said she doesn’t believe Quintin Sponagle, 59, can pay the entirety of a $1.1-million fine ordered six years ago, but there is “deep concern” he has made no effort to chip away at the amount, aside from $10,000 paid earlier this year. 

Sponagle testified Tuesday he has earned little income since his 2017 sentencing on one count of fraud. He has worked doing occasional demolition and renovation work, and helped his adult sons build three homes, but he said he and his wife earn less than $25,000 a year combined.

The five-year deadline to pay the fine has passed, and the law stipulates he be sentenced to five years in prison if it is determined he has the ability to pay, but is refusing to do so.

On Tuesday, Judge Elizabeth Buckle asked whether she could legally sentence Sponagle to less time behind bars, or if she could order an extension allowing him more time to pay.

MacDonald said there’s little case law examining those scenarios. The court will return on Jan. 4 for further discussions on the issue.

Global currency ‘reset’

Sponagle, who lives in Upper Vaughn, N.S., pleaded guilty to one count of fraud involving 201 victims, many of them from church groups and his social circle. 

The victims had invested $4.4 million in a financial firm Sponagle controlled that was incorporated in Panama and had an office in Windsor, N.S., but more than $1 million was instead spent on cars, recreational vehicles and international travel.

On Monday, the court heard from an American man, David Sybesma, who has known Sponagle for 15 years and who testified he held “assets” that would gain value once global currencies were “reset,” allowing Sponagle to pay back the victims.

It was not clear from testimony how the process would work, and Sybesma said those assets include “Zim notes,” an apparent reference to the trillion-dollar banknotes issued by the southern African nation of Zimbabwe in 2009 during a period of hyperinflation.

“The Crown does not believe that any of that money is ever going to be realized,” MacDonald said. “If Mr. Sponagle believes that himself, that’s problematic, because that money’s not coming.”

Sponagle said Tuesday he was confident his plan would work — insisting at one point it’s “very, very close” — even as Buckle urged him to move on from the discussion.

‘Live the good life’ 

When he agreed in 2017 to pay the $1.1 million fine, Sponagle said he was certain that his asset scenario involving global currencies would come to fruition long before the five years elapsed.

“I never imagined at that time that it would not be paid,” he said. “The world turns slow.”

MacDonald said the judge at the 2017 sentencing hearing concluded Sponagle had betrayed his investors in “order to live the good life.”

She noted he hasn’t provided bank statements or income tax returns to the court to show he has had little income in the last six years.

Despite his fraud conviction, Sponagle managed to get various credit cards, and purchased a lawn tractor and co-signed with his wife on a $28,000 loan for a Subaru.

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