Possible Ponzi scheme

Bounced retirement home cheques. Tens of thousands in unpaid income taxes. Hundreds of thousands of dollars in possibly lost life savings.

MONTREAL — Bounced retirement home cheques. Tens of thousands in unpaid income taxes. Hundreds of thousands of dollars in possibly lost life savings.

These are the stories and allegations that poured out of the mostly elderly men and women who packed a west Montreal hotel conference room Sunday to swap tales of feared loss and betrayal — and to get answers to their many questions.

Joined by their frantic families, they’re among some 50 people — most in Montreal but also elsewhere in Canada, the United States and Europe — who may have lost millions in what Quebec’s securities regulator alleges has all the appearances of a Ponzi scheme.

“I can’t see, I can’t hear much and I’m 94 so it’s not the easiest thing in the world,” said Nancy Jean Rollinson, who trusted her savings to the man authorities allege is behind it, Montreal financial planner Bertram Earl Jones.

“He’s the executor of my will…. I’m in a bad way,” she said before the meeting.

Andre Thiem said the whole thing comes as a shock as Jones had been “like an uncle” to him since 1965.

His 74-year-old mother Ruth had “scrimped and saved every penny” during her 35 years with Avon and had some $200,000 invested with Jones, he said.

“Now it’s all gone so I’m just worried about her health,” he said, noting she hasn’t eaten or slept in days.

Local and provincial police attended the meeting to gather statements but Montreal police spokesman Andre Leclerc said the police investigation in the matter is in its infancy.

The whereabouts of Jones remains unknown. He has not been charged with any crime and the allegations against him have not been proven. However, the province’s securities regulator froze his accounts and those of his company last week.

The Authorite des marches financiers peg the amount of money missing at between $30-$50 million and say Jones did not have proper credentials.

Efforts are underway to figure out what happened to the money and to redistribute anything that might be left to the victims, said bankruptcy lawyer Neil Stein who attended the meeting.

Stein represents one of the victims who has filed bankrupts proceedings against Jones’ company Earl Jones Consultant and Administration Corp.

He’s working on behalf of a woman who’d invested with Jones and had been receiving monthly cheques that he said began to bounce in recent months, but he said any money recovered would be “distributed on a pro rata basis to all the creditors.”

“We obtained a judgment allowing (accounting firm) RSM Richter to act as court appointed interim receiver. To take possession immediately of the books and records and assets and computers of the corporation and its bank accounts,” he said.

“They went in Friday night after we obtained the order and have taken possession and have started their preliminary analysis at this time.”

Stein said about 100 estates and some 30 individuals appear to be implicated in the scandal but that the scale of the loss remains unclear.

He suggested Jones built his client base through word of mouth. He said a Ponzi scheme “is really someone who has taken from Peter to pay Paul.”

In a Ponzi scheme, early investors often are paid quick returns using the money of later investors.

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