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Milowe Allen Brost, left, and Gary Allen Sorenson
Milowe Allen Brost, left, and Gary Allen Sorenson

Ponzi scheme suspect arrested at Calgary airport Add to ...

Gary Sorenson left behind a sweeping, multimillion-dollar mansion in the hills of Honduras and boarded a private plane.

When it landed Tuesday morning at the section of the Calgary airport where the city's oil elite meet their sleek jets and skirt security lines, he was greeted by four RCMP members. The alleged mastermind of Canada's largest Ponzi scheme, accused of defrauding $400-million from 4,000 investors, was handcuffed and whisked away to face the charges.

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It was a brazen step, even for a man police believe oversaw a scheme that worked to curry investments from professional football players and once advertised on a chuckwagon at the Calgary Stampede.

Why Mr. Sorenson left Honduras - a country that has not signed an extradition treaty with Canada - is a question that even those tasked with bringing the man to justice can't quite answer.

"I was surprised he came back," said Photini Papadatou, an economic crime prosecutor with Calgary's special prosecutions unit.

She was tipped off to his return by his lawyer, who did not return calls for comment Tuesday. But defence lawyer Don Macleod told CTV News that his client returned voluntarily and plans to mount a "vigorous defence."

Sixteen days after the arrest of his co-accused, Albertan Milowe Brost, Mr. Sorenson found himself before a justice of the peace in Airdrie, a bedroom community north of Calgary. Both men are charged with fraud over $5,000 and theft over $5,000. In a brief court hearing, Mr. Sorenson was ordered to post a $150,000 cash bail or $300,000 surety and given strict conditions for his life back in Canada.

Like Mr. Brost, he was forced to turn in his passport and other travel documents. He must report to the RCMP every Thursday. He must live at a police-approved address, and he cannot leave Alberta without permission from the courts. He must have no contact with 82 people, including his co-accused and others who could be witnesses at trial.

Both men are scheduled to appear in court Oct. 19 to enter pleas.

"They both will be dealt with under the Canadian judicial system," Ms. Papadatou said.

There is much speculation about why Mr. Sorenson returned to Canada. But Ms. Papadatou said no legal manoeuvres were under way to bring him back to Canada via the United States, which does have a treaty with Honduras.

She speculated political turmoil resulting from this summer's coup in Honduras might have something to do with his sudden return.

"The government that was in power at the time he was living there is no longer in power," she said.

RCMP Superintendent Eric Mattson, who leads Alberta's integrated market enforcement team, said: "There's all sorts of reasons why people make those decisions.

"There's more than just where you are and where you live. It's where you want to live."

Adriano Iovinelli, a criminal lawyer in Calgary, said that aside from rushing back to beat an extradition order, there's one main reason someone returns to face criminal charges.

"That is to clear their name. You would assume that if someone was absolutely guilty of what's being alleged that there would be more of a reluctance for that person to come back willingly," he said.

Either way, coming forward voluntarily is looked on favourably by judges when making decisions about bail, he said.

Ms. Papadatou said she didn't release Mr. Sorenson's address to the public after watching the fallout of the financial fraud cases of Vincent Lacroix, who pleaded guilty last week to robbing 9,200 investors out of $115-million over a five-year period, and Earl Jones, who faces eight charges of theft and fraud related to the activities of his financial adviser's firm.

"This particular guy has a bad heart and I frankly don't want to be responsible for someone's safety," Ms. Papadatou said. "… People are mad."

Mr. Sorenson's return will see him fight charges that have made him and Mr. Brost two of Alberta's most notorious sons. Their alleged fraud has dominated headlines in Calgary, and spurred a flurry of tax and other investigations aimed at untangling the web of business arrangements the two men were involved in.

Those who were ensnared in the scheme say the men used financial education seminars to persuade investors to avoid banks in favour of offshore mining investments. The family of one woman who invested says she committed suicide after losing her savings.

Mr. Sorenson's arrest came as welcome news to Graham McMillan, who has maintained a website dedicated to exposing the scheme.

"It does concern me that I suspect he must think he's got some kind of a rational basis for a defence, or he can lock it up in court," he said.

"But at this point it's in the hands of the police and I sure would like to think that after three years, they've gathered enough evidence to make a case stand in court. It would astound me if they don't, in the biggest alleged Ponzi scam, as they're now calling it, in Canadian history."

Follow on Twitter: @nvanderklippe

 

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