ONTARIO PROVINCIAL POLICE
TORONTO — Ontario's Serious Fraud Office (SFO) has returned a Barrie resident to Canada to face several charges following a landmark international fraud investigation.
In September 2018, the SFO commenced an investigation into a complex 'Ponzi' scheme involving the sale of 'point of sale' debit terminals. The victims believed they were buying the terminals — from a company called 'Debit Direct' — to be placed in businesses across Canada and the United States. The victims were led to believe that they would receive a royalty of 15 cents-per-transaction on each purchase made via their point of sale terminals. Victims were unaware that the point of sale terminals never actually existed, and any "profits" they received was actually obtained from money invested by new "investors."
The victims initially came forward with their complaints to nine different police agencies across Canada. The investigation was referred to the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) Anti-Rackets Branch in March 2018, and was later transferred to the newly established Serious Fraud Office.
Approximately 515 known victims suffered losses totalling more than $24 million since the scheme originated in 2012 in Barrie while the accused is believed to have collected more than $56 million from victims who believed they were investing in a legitimate investment opportunity.
As a result of the investigation, Charles Debono, aged 62 years, has been charged with the following offences contrary to the Criminal Code of Canada:
- Fraud over $5,000 - Section 380(1)(a)
- Laundering proceeds of crime - Section 462.31(1)(a)
- Bribery of agent - Section 426(1)(a)
- Personation with intent - Section 403(1)(a)
- Use, deals, acts on forged document - Section 368(1)(a)
The accused has been deported to Canada from the Dominican Republic and was arrested by the OPP upon arrival. The accused was remanded into custody and will make the next court appearance at the Ontario Court of Justice in Barrie on Sept. 14, 2020.
As part of the investigation, approximately $1.5 million has been restrained in Canada as proceeds of crime, while similar measures are being sought in other countries. Restitution is also being sought on behalf of the victims. The SFO encourages any victims of this crime to provide their information to the victim-focused SFO team at sfo.project.debitdirect@
The Serious Fraud Office will not comment further in order to protect the integrity of the investigation and any ensuing court processes. The SFO acknowledges the important contributions and collaborative efforts made by the Canada Border Services Agency, Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada (FINTRAC), Canada Revenue Agency, the Dominican Republic National Police, and Interpol during this investigation. The Serious Fraud Office acknowledges and thanks the RCMP, Toronto Police Service, Calgary Police Service, and Barrie Police Service, which were among the police services to receive victim complaints. The SFO would also like to acknowledge the support provided by Camden Assets Recovery Inter-Agency Network (CARIN) and Asset Recovery Interagency Network - Caribbean (ARIN-CARIB) to help locate assets in the Dominican Republic.
DID YOU KNOW
A Ponzi scheme is a pattern of fraud that lures investors by paying profits to early investors with profits from more recent investors.
Ontario's Serious Fraud Office (SFO) is a multi-disciplinary team of uniform and civilian subject matter experts who investigate and prosecute serious fraud and complex financial crimes. The SFO has dedicated staff with representation from the Ministry of the Attorney General (MAG) and the Ministry of the Solicitor General (SOLGEN), and also partners with municipal police services in Ontario.
Serious fraud is defined as fraud that has significant impact on society and/or significant financial loss in totality. Serious frauds can incorporate corruption, collusion, multiple jurisdictions and/or elements of organized crime. The consequences have serious impacts on victims (seniors, marginalized individuals and youth) and erode public confidence in democratic processes, government integrity and financial sector stability.