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Financial adviser's victims still suffer

Former Thow client feels trapped after losing $600,000 in life savings

Ron Black is frustrated. To be honest, Black is more than frustrated, but he's a gentleman and frustration is his word of choice.

Black, 82, one of former Berkshire investment adviser Ian Thow's victims who has lost his life savings, feels stuck and his small, one-bedroom James Bay apartment is a constant reminder of what happened to him.

"It just gets bloody frustrating, especially since I would normally be able to go here or there and do things like take trips but I can't do that. I'm stuck," said Black who was forced to sell his house as a result of losing his savings. "And every time I think about it, all I can think about is what he did."

What Thow did was bilk former clients and creditors of more than $32 million before leaving the country in the summer of 2005 to set up home in Seattle. From Black, Thow managed to wriggle $600,000 in much the same manner as he did scores of other clients -- by convincing them to invest in schemes ranging from buying shares in a Jamaican bank to loans for Vancouver developers.

The RCMP has been searching for Thow for nearly five months. He is charged with 25 counts of fraud over $5,000 as a result of his misuse of former clients' investments and faces 10-14 years in prison per charge.

There has been no news from either the RCMP or provincial Crown counsel on Thow's whereabouts, and neither group have offered any kind of update on the progress of their attempts to find him.

And that's starting to eat away at a number of the victims.

"The whole thing pisses me off," said Black, echoing comments from a number of Thow's former clients who in some cases are living on the partial settlements they got from Berkshire -- 29 former clients got a share of $4.1 million from Thow's former employer. "I haven't heard a thing since I spoke with the RCMP in August.

"I mean I doubt I'd get my money back, but if he got thrown in jail I'd at least have that satisfaction."

The recent stock market turmoil has cost Black even more -- having paid his debts, he invested what he had left over in safe and secure products, but even those have been hit hard by the global financial crisis.

"Having lost everything I had and living the way I am, it's just frustrating," he said.

His annoyance will not be assuaged by the silence coming from either the RCMP or Crown counsel.

"There's nothing new I can talk about at this point," said acting sergeant Sammy Wu of the RCMP's Integrated Market Enforcement Team.

The only expansion on that answer he offers is: "That falls under the scope of the investigation so I can't really comment."

It's the answer you get when you ask if they know where Thow is, what they're doing to bring him back to Canada, if they are getting co-operation from foreign police agencies and if they have had any kind of contact with Thow or his legal counsel.

When asked if Crown counsel have been dealing with Thow or his legal team to secure his return to Canada, Crown spokesman Stan Lowe was equally circumspect.

"There are no negotiations to deal with the issue of a plea, we don't negotiate with people regarding plea resolution while there are warrants outstanding for their arrest," he said.

Lowe did say they have been in contact with Thow's victims and empathize with their level of frustration.

"But we're at the point where we have done all we can do," he said, adding they have to wait for the police to bring Thow in.

In recent months it's been rumoured Thow has been seen near his home in Seattle, and that he has contacted some former clients looking for money.

The Times Colonist learned earlier this summer that Thow had been in Jamaica this summer trying to put together a business deal with a hotel owner in that country that was not completed.

If Thow is found on foreign soil, it could take years before he faces a court in Canada as he will likely have to go through what can be a long extradition process.

According to the Canadian Department of Justice, the decision whether or not to make a request for extradition is at the discretion of the prosecutorial authorities, who would conduct the prosecution in Canada. And granting extradition is decided by the determining factors of dual criminality -- whether the alleged offence is a crime in both countries -- and the seriousness of the offence, among other things.

Canada may also make a request to the foreign country for the provisional arrest of the person in question, although it will be Canadian officers bringing that person back to Canada.

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