Lower Mainland resident Clifford Earl Erickson was handed a criminal conviction in 1998 for defrauding business associates of hundreds of thousands of dollars and another in 2001 for duping a woman who he had promised to marry out of $92,000.
At the time, in articles in The Province, his brother said he was a con man who would bilk his own mother. In each case, he was given jail sentences of two years.
Fast forward two decades later and Erickson, now in his late 70s, has again been accused of fraud.
At least five civil suits were launched since 2012 in B.C. Supreme Court against Erickson, alleging he defrauded complainants of more than $2.6 million. The court record also includes claims against Erickson for writing bad cheques and failing to pay a lawyer more than $15,000.
The recent allegations have not been proven in court.
The alleged victims want Erickson investigated by the authorities, too.
But when one complainant tried to get police to investigate, they refused. Another complainant says he was discouraged by police from even filing a complaint.
Others, too, have been frustrated when trying to get the police to investigate serious investment frauds, including a major $30-million Ponzi scheme.
Investment advocates and victims believe the lack of criminal prosecution creates an environment where investment frauds believes they can operate with impunity.
These examples where police have declined to investigate underscore the findings of an Postmedia investigation, first published in November, that showed criminal prosecutions for investment fraud are rare in B.C.
Experts say police are often reluctant to investigate complex investment frauds because their resources are directed at more straightforward cases, such as drug possession.
While police sometimes refer investment-type fraud complaints to the B.C. Securities Commission, less than two per cent of the $510 million in penalties levied by that regulatory body has been collected in the past decade, according to Postmedia’s investigation.
“Spending some time in jail, that’s where the real deterrent comes in,” said Marian Passmore, director of policy for the Canadian Foundation for Advancement of Investor Rights.
Cristie Ford, a UBC law professor, said penalizing or prosecuting financial crime is difficult. It can be the hardest crime to prove, Ford said, because you have to follow the money, often in many different directions.
Ford, the director of UBC’s Centre for Business Law, said pursuing investment crimes takes expertise that police forces may not have and may go against a police culture oriented toward solving violent crime.
Ford said there is little co-ordination across investigative, regulatory and enforcement agencies — including police departments and securities commissions — when it comes to investment crime.
“The bottleneck is really around expertise and desire to pursue these very tricky cases,” said Ford, who has made presentations to the B.C. Securities Commission.
Ford suggested a solution could be creating a financial fraud unit, with members from various B.C. police forces, housed at the securities commission, with the necessary expertise and resources.
When Robert Lemon considers Erickson’s criminal convictions of nearly two decades ago, he wonders why he couldn’t get the police interested in new allegations of fraud.
Lemon filed a 2014 claim in B.C. Supreme Court against Erickson and a woman named Ritsuko Tsurigida after Lemon’s longtime partner Robert Ledingham died the year before. The claim alleges $1.1 million advanced to Erickson and Tsurigida, which was secured by a promissory note, was not repaid to Ledingham.
Lemon claims Ledingham made payments into an investment, the Panama-based Spanish Endowment Fund, whose directors included Erickson and Tsurigida, and there is no record of repayments or dividends.
Erickson responded to the claim, stating he never received the funds.
But particularly galling to Lemon, and the reason he went to police, was Erickson contacted him after his partner’s death, trying to get him to invest $300,000 in the Spanish Endowment Fund, he said.
Lemon said Erickson pitched investments in internet phone service cards in Cuba and global shipments of oil, and also said he was close to acquiring the rights to McDonald’s restaurants in Cuba. When pressed for evidence of the investments, Erickson did not provide any, said Lemon.
“This to me was the slap in the face. This guy needs to be punished. The audacity to phone again, it’s insulting for a grieving partner,” said Lemon.
He first went to the RCMP, who told him to contact the Vancouver Police Department. The VPD refused to investigate.
In a March 2016 email, Const. Alison Bale told Lemon that frauds are difficult to prove, Panama was out of the VPD’s jurisdiction, generally contracts are a civil matter and it was complicated by the fact that Ledingham had died.
The email said that if his lawyer could find “evidence of fraud, something specific” to let the VPD know.
Lemon was dismayed the VPD was unaware Erickson had criminal convictions for fraud.
According to VPD information supplied at Postmedia’s request, the city police department investigated nearly 7,400 fraud files between 2015 and 2017, of which 871 cases were recommended for charges.
Most of these files are lower-level crimes such as credit-card fraud that are investigated by regular patrol officers. The 12-member financial crime unit takes about 50 to 60 cases a year, including large-scale misappropriations that can take years to investigate.
However, investment-type frauds are usually referred to the B.C. Securities Commission, said Sgt. Duane van Beek, who heads the VPD’s financial crimes unit.
Van Beek said he could not comment on individual cases.
Van Beek said that in deciding whether to investigate, the VPD will examine several factors: Did the incident take place in Vancouver or have a connection to the city, is it in the public interest, and is it a viable case where evidence can be gathered for a successful prosecution?
“These files are more complex than most people realize,” he said.
Lemon went to the B.C. Securities Commission on his own after the VPD declined to investigate the allegations against Erickson. The VPD had not suggested he do so.
In his latest communication with the B.C. Securities Commission in late 2017, he was told that an investigation into Erickson was continuing.
Commission spokeswoman Alison Walker said this week the regulatory body does not confirm or deny the existence of investigations.
Lemon is not the only person who would like to see the police investigate the most recent complaints against Erickson for alleged fraudulent activities.
Saskatchewan resident Suzanne Olaski alleged in a suit filed in B.C. Supreme Court in 2015 — and now taken up by her estate — that Erickson co-ordinated a series of transactions to provide her a loan of hundreds of thousands of dollars to develop a hotel property. Some of the loan money was to be directed into the Spanish Endowment Fund, from which she was promised substantive returns.
She didn’t receive the loan money, says her claim.
Erickson has not responded to the Olaski claim.
When Olaski’s son Mike Olaski, following her death in 2016 of a heart attack at aged 72, approached the RCMP to investigate, he was discouraged from filing a complaint. “I was told it was really hard to prove and not to bother wasting time,” said Olaski.
His mother lost significant equity on a project she had been working on for 20 years, and was under tremendous stress, said Olaski.
Of the alleged scam, he said: “They are taking more than money. They are taking lives and years.”
The individuals who put the loan money up for Olaski — Susan Di Giacomo and Malcolm Fraser — also launched claims in B.C. Supreme Court against Erickson to recoup nearly $900,000.
Erickson did not respond to the claims.
Fraser said he met Erickson through his business partner and lawyer, who had met Erickson through a church group.
Neither he nor Di Giacomo filed a complaint with police but say they would like to see him face a criminal investigation.
“It’s just an ugly, continuing story,” said Fraser.
Like others who had dealings with Erickson two decades ago, Fraser describes Erickson as a smooth operator and very clever.
Postmedia could not reach Erickson for comment. His last lawyer said he no longer represented Erickson and had no contact information. A man who answered the last known telephone number for Erickson said he was not Erickson.
There are other significant fraud claims in B.C. that police have declined to investigate.
The Vancouver police decided in 2012 not to investigate Lynn Rae Nickford (also known as Lynn Rae Zlotnik), accused of using money from 13 investors for personal use, including gambling.
A B.C. Securities Commission tribunal levied a $618,000 penalty against Nickford this month, but as Nickford is bankrupt there is question of whether she will ever pay.
The VPD said it could not comment on the case.
North Vancouver resident Peter Doetsch continues to be frustrated with the lack of a police investigation into a $30-million Ponzi scheme that involved as many as 170 people. He lost more than $4 million, according to court records.
West Vancouver-resident Virginia Tan admitted in a 2017 settlement with the B.C. Securities Commission that she perpetrated the Ponzi scheme and agreed to a $3-million fine.
The Vancouver police opened a file but declined to investigate because the securities commission was investigating.
However, Tan has not paid her fine.
Last December, Doetsch took a new complaint to North Vancouver RCMP. “The police need to take that first step,” said Doetsch. “I wish the system would work.”
This week, Doetsch was sent a letter from North Vancouver RCMP Supt. Chris Kennedy telling him that the matter has already been reviewed and investigated by the B.C. Securities Commission, an “appropriate specialized enforcement unit,” and therefore the RCMP would not be investigating the alleged fraud.