Hundreds of investors worried about their savings after Victoria mortgage broker put in receivership
Over 400 concerned investors — some who fear they have lost their life savings — attended B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver Tuesday to follow proceedings in a case one claimant has described as a "Ponzi-like investment scheme."
Victoria mortgage broker Gregory Joseph Martel and My Mortgage Auction Corp. (MMAC), which also does business as Shop Your Own Mortgage, are at the centre of the case. Martel is sole director of MMAC and sells mortgage investments promising high rates of return.
Martel and his company have been hit with numerous lawsuits from individuals and businesses. On May 4, MMAC was put into a receivership overseen by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).
Tuesday's proceedings took place "ex parte," meaning without the participation of Martel or his representative. Justice Shelley Fitzpatrick heard that process servers have been unable to find Martel in Victoria. Instead, a court summons was sent via email, which the court heard has not had a response.
$58M in, $58M out
Peter Rubin, counsel for the receiver, said Martel's MMAC bank account at RBC showed $58 million in deposits and $58 million in withdrawals between Nov. 4, 2022, and May 3, 2023, leaving a balance of $279.98.
Two PwC reports presented in court also noted:
An MMAC financial statement from September 2022 listed total assets of $234 million.
MMAC paid Martel a dividend of $6.5 million in 2022.
MMAC offices in Victoria and Toronto were found to be vacant. Offices in California, Texas, Nevada and Florida have yet to be investigated.
Martel owns a highly mortgaged, multi-million dollar property in each of Victoria and Las Vegas and recently sold a similar property in San Diego.
Martel spent lavishly on private jets, vehicles, luxury apartment rentals, concert tickets and home escrow payments funded by shareholder advances.
MMAC was integrated into a broader group of companies owned by Martel, between which funds were transferred.
Over 350 investors tuned in to the courtroom via video link, and another 50 attended in person. Fitzpatrick allowed a handful to speak.
"Members of the general public were enticed by promises of big returns," said Kira Kelly of Victoria. "I really hope I haven't lost my life savings."
Ross Buck said he and others have gone through the formal MMAC process to have their investments paid out instead of reinvested. So far, they've received nothing.
"A number of us have been waiting months for payout. That has not happened," Buck told the court.
David LeClaire said Martel has been online as recently as a few weeks ago, "assuring us things are OK" while continuing to solicit money.
'Everyone's going to get paid'
Videos of Martel posted online appear to show him trying to reassure investors who want their money out.
"I know I've promised you guys multiple dates ... Everyone's going to get paid," he said in one video.
In an affidavit, William Belland of Nanaimo said he was convinced by MMAC CEO Julie Lyons to invest over $318,000 from March 9 to March 23 this year. Belland said Lyons did not inform him the company was already defaulting on earlier investors.
"I am concerned that I have been an unwitting participant in a Ponzi-like investment scheme, and I am very concerned that I will not recover the $318,704.60 invested. The loss of this investment will be very difficult for me," said Belland.
MMAC and Martel were put into receivership after a lawsuit claiming $17.6 million in losses was filed by an Alberta-numbered company.
According to court documents, Alberta 1548199 Ltd. made 82 loans to MMAC between December 2021 and January 2023, money that was "further loaned out by MMAC to third parties seeking short-term bridge financing on commercial and residential real estate deals throughout British Columbia, California and other U.S. states."
A list in the claim shows the loans made to MMAC from Alberta 1548199 Ltd. range in size from $43,500 to $3.51 million with interest rates as high as 25 per cent.
Fitzpatrick ordered the assets of MMAC, Martel and two related companies be frozen in and outside of B.C. She also ordered Martel to co-operate with investigators and provide access to records.
CBC tried contacting Martel for comment, but his mailbox was full.
The next court date has been set for May 17.