Man who pledged $7M to hockey team charged with fraud over cheques to restaurant

Man who pledged $7M to hockey team charged with fraud over cheques to restaurant

VANCOUVER — A man who promised $7.5 million to a junior hockey team in British Columbia has been charged with forgery and fraud after a restaurant owner complained to police about an unpaid bill.

Cranbrook RCMP say they began investigating Michael Lawrence Gould of Wasa, B.C., in early November after a local business owner contacted them. The owner said she’d catered a banquet for 50 people and she was paid with cheques.

“When the business owner attempted to cash the cheques, she was advised that there were insufficient funds,” Const. Kathy Forgeron said in a statement on Tuesday.

Forgeron said Crown counsel has approved charges of forgery and fraud against Gould, who is scheduled to appear in court on Monday.

Asked for his response to the allegations, Gould said he did not plan to appear on the charges.

“I’m not going to court,” he said.

“I got no reaction. I don’t have to be there. There you go. Goodbye,” he said, before hanging up.

In some cases, a lawyer can appear on behalf of an accused at a first appearance. Gould did not say whether he had obtained counsel.

Gould, 38, promised millions to the Kimberley Dynamiters at a home game in October attended by 700 people. He said he had won a jackpot in a EuroMillions lottery, although he declined to say how much he’d won.

The team’s board of directors issued a statement on Nov. 13 saying it had not received the money.

On Nov. 15, Gould said the team would receive the money in 10 days. He said the delay was due to minor issues and also “with the banks,” but he didn’t elaborate.

In an email on Wednesday, team president James Leroux said the team has not received the donation.

Jolene Salanski, owner of the Northwest Grill, said Gould held a banquet at the restaurant in October to celebrate his promised donation to the team.

She said he appeared to be a “very nice gentleman, very businesslike, well-mannered.”

The bill was close to $8,000 and he paid her in two cheques that had his stepfather’s name on them, she said. Salanski said she knew the man was Gould’s stepfather because he had also attended the banquet. The stepfather could not be reached for comment.

The next day, Gould called her and asked her not to cash the cheques, adding he’d bring her a bank draft instead, Salanski said.

“There was promise after promise,” she said. “He kept telling me he’d come and then he never did.”

She said he gave her a gift letter with a bank’s logo on it as well as other documents that he said were from the bank. She said she became suspicious and frustrated as she owed money to food vendors and employees who assisted with the event.

After about a month, she took the cheques and other documents to the bank, Salanski said.

“I was informed at that time that (Gould’s stepfather) had no idea the cheques were written and I was to meet (him) at the RCMP station,” she said, adding the bank also told her the other documents were not real.

Gould has told the National Post that all the documents he has provided on financial institutions’ letterheads were authentic, and repeated he plans to fulfil his promise to the Dynamiters hockey team.

The Post quotes Gould as saying he asked Salanski not to cash the cheques because he didn’t have access to funds to give to his stepfather to cover the payment. Gould told the newspaper he offered the gift letter to Salanski because he wanted to help her out.

Salanski told The Canadian Press she turned over all the documents to police. Cranbrook RCMP did not respond to interview requests.

About two weeks ago, Gould came into the restaurant and paid the bill in cash, Salanski said.

“He likes to put on a show,” she said. “It was right in the middle of the restaurant and he’s counting out all this money on the table. … He just made a big spectacle of it.”

She said the experience was extremely stressful as she just took over as owner of the restaurant in August.

“This was not my dream of owning my own restaurant, put it that way,” she said.

— By Laura Kane in Vancouver

The Canadian Press

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