CALGARY – Genie Vollmer remembers vividly the last time she saw one of the architects of what authorities say is the largest Ponzi scheme in Canadian history.
Vollmer and her husband, Helmut, invested $400,000 with Milowe Brost, 61 and his partner Gary Sorenson, 71, who were convicted earlier this month of fraud and theft. Brost was also convicted of money laundering.
A sentencing hearing is scheduled for today.
The two men were arrested in 2009. Vollmer said she attended a final investors meeting conducted by Brost in Calgary and his assurances now haunt her.
“At that time he said the government was after him, but he also mentioned – and I will never forget those words – that ‘I am always a step ahead of them,”’ she said in a telephone interview.
“I can still see him marching down the aisle and he was very nervous and at that time we knew something was wrong. He was an excellent talker and he was very smart. If not, people wouldn’t invest money.”
Genie, 77 and Helmut, who is 80, were persuaded by their longtime accountant to invest in the scheme, which promised unrealistic returns on investments.
Ponzi schemes involve taking funds from new investors and using them to pay old ones.
Police said 2,000 investors around the world lost between $100 million and $400 million. Many lost their life savings, retirement plans, even equity in their homes.
“We did not know it was a scam. I’m glad that it’s finally over and I hope they get quite a few number of years in jail unless they come up with the money that they still hid somewhere,” Genie Vollmer said.
“I’m sure that they know where the money is, and it’s probably out of the country.”
Brost and Sorenson were taken into custody after their convictions when the Crown expressed concern that they could attempt to flee.
Helmut Vollmer said he is just glad that the former high flyers will be off the street.
“We’ll get them gone for a while, that’s for sure. They’ll do more damage if they’re out on the street.”
The Crown argued during the trial that the money invested was never really safe.
One set of fraud and theft offences took place between 1999 and 2008 and involved companies named Syndicated Gold Depository SA, Base Metals Corp. LLC, Bahama Resource Alliance Ltd. and Merendon Mining Corp. Ltd.
More wrongdoing took place between 2004 and 2005 with a company called Strategic Metals Corp.
Investors were promised a 34 per cent annual return on an investment of $99,000 – which was supposed to grow to just over $1 million within eight years.
They were told that the business involved selling gold for refining and that it was “low risk.”
“As far as we’re concerned the money is gone,” said Genie Vollmer.
“We are lucky. It made a dent in our savings …but at least we didn’t invest all of it.”