An Alberta man has been convicted of fraud and forgery in a series of elaborate sports investment schemes that cost his victims more than $1.7 million.
Nickolas Ellis was found guilty on Jan. 17 in Edmonton Court of King's Bench on eight counts of fraud over $5,000, three counts of use or trafficking in a forged document and three counts of identity fraud.
The case details how Ellis, 52, engineered a series of elaborate frauds, often using his purported connections to current and retired NHL players to both entice and placate investors.
Ellis used fake emails, fabricated meetings, forged paperwork and "fictional characters" to lend legitimacy to his projects — defrauding eight friends, coworkers and neighbours.
Ellis's crimes took place between February 2016 and March 2019.
The investment opportunities presented by Mr. Ellis were a house of cards built on a foundation of deception. - Justice John Henderson
"The investment opportunities presented by Mr. Ellis were a house of cards built on a foundation of deception," wrote Justice John Henderson.
"None of the investment opportunities were real and all were designed to generate substantial funds for Mr. Ellis at the expense of the investors."
The judge determined Ellis's projects were a fiction and the money gained from the schemes was never invested in anything other than his personal finances.
Ellis used a series of ruses on his investors, including impersonating late New York Islanders legend Mike Bossy — and fabricating correspondence from lawyers the court determined did not exist.
Ellis was initially charged on a 17-count amended indictment. He pleaded not guilty last October and has denied knowingly participating in any fraudulent activity.
Derek Anderson, Ellis's lawyer, said he was reviewing the decision with an "eye towards appeal" but said his client declined further comment. Ellis is due back in court for arraignment on Feb. 3.
Some of his victims met Ellis after he moved into a neighbourhood near a golf course south of Sherwood Park around 2015. Others knew him for a relatively short time, in some cases only months, before investing with Ellis.
The judge described Ellis as an intelligent, well-educated man with a history in mergers and acquisitions who was "highly regarded" by those he worked with.
The largest of Ellis's schemes was called the Dynasty Project. Three investors collectively lost close to $1.2 million.
The project offered investors an opportunity to acquire an interest in the project, one Ellis claimed involved NHL personalities, including Bossy.
According to Ellis's testimony, the project began with an offer, from a "friend of a friend," to meet a software developer named Dean who was seeking seed money to develop app technology
Ellis said he was told the app would communicate with athletes before and after games, and relay information to subscribers through various live chats and streams.
The pitch included a partnership with sports leagues and investors were promised millions or billions of dollars in returns on the closing of the sale to Microsoft.
Ellis testified that he never learned Dean's last name – and never met him again – but that he was soon contacted by Tom and Frank Tiebert, lawyers for Dynasty.
Emails claiming to be from the Tieberts encouraged investors to funnel more money into the project.
The judge however determined the Tieberts were "fictional persons" Ellis used as props.
Ellis set up a fake email account in Bossy's name to add legitimacy to the scheme.
He also sent an email with a forged legal letter attached purporting to be from an Edmonton law firm, informing investors that the firm held millions in trust for the project.
But the project never existed. The money was not held in trust. And Ellis's story of the meeting with the developer had "no ring of truth," the judge found.
The Dynasty Project was a sham. It was not real. It existed only in the mind of Mr. Ellis.
- Justice John Henderson
"I conclude that the Dynasty Project was a sham. It was not real," Henderson wrote.
"It existed only in the mind of Mr. Ellis."
While Ellis was defrauding the Dynasty investors, he was touting another scheme.
Dubbed the Gretzky Project, it promised a "huge opportunity" with distributor Upper Deck, a relationship that did not exist.
The licensing arrangement would be for nine new collections of limited-issue Gretzky merchandise.
Ellis took an additional $38,000 from one of the Dynasty investors, money Ellis would deposit directly into his personal accounts.
In March 2019, the Dynasty investors reported Ellis to police and the fraud investigation began, court heard.
The second largest investment scheme, known as the Reebok Jersey Program, defrauded six investors of more than $319,000.
The project aimed to take advantage of the NHL's switch from Reebok-branded jerseys to Adidas ones during the 2017 season.
Ellis told investors that because of his contacts with the NHL and U.S. based distributors, he had an opportunity to purchase an inventory of more than 1,000 jerseys.
The plan was to get them signed and repackaged and sold for profit.
Ellis testified the project began when he was approached by a man named Jack that he knew through the "collecting world."
Ellis told investors that the bulk of the jerseys had been pre-sold, leading them to believe the risk of the project was minimal. Again, he claimed to be in business with Upper Deck, which he was not.
He forged emails from an Edmonton framing company that reported that hundreds of jerseys were being packaged for sale, court heard. Another email reported that signed photographs had been collected for the project at Connor McDavid's 21st birthday party in Las Vegas.
As with the Dynasty project, Ellis sold the same interest in the project to different sets of investors.
"The Reebok Jersey Program was never real, but instead was a sham," Henderson wrote.
"Ellis used a series of elaborate strategies designed to make it appear to the investors that the project was real and worthy of investment
The Bridge Financing Project, which began in November 2017, claimed to involve the financing of commercial buildings which had reached the final construction stage but had not yet been sold.
Ellis claimed former NHL coach and player Kevin Lowe and hockey executive and former player, Craig McTavish, had already signed on as partners. They had not.
Nine partners were supposed to share the cost of the financing equally. Instead one man transferred Ellis $40,250 and lost it all.
Ellis also offered one of his jersey program investors an opportunity to invest in the acquisition in the window and door replacement business where he worked as general manager and then was promoted to chief operating officer. The man invested $49,475. But this too was a fiction, the judge found.
The company was never for sale, the company that Ellis claimed was aiming to purchase it did not exist as a corporate entity and Ellis did not have the means to award anyone shares in the operation.
"He denies any dishonesty or fraud," Henderson wrote. "I do not believe Mr. Ellis."