By Tina Comeau
A former Yarmouth real estate broker has been fined $8,000 and will serve one year of probation after pleading guilty to a charge of uttering forged documents that involved mortgage documents and applications from years ago.
The court was told that Ray Michael Nelson, 62, was suspicious of documents created by others that he was forwarding onto financial lending institutions – which would be used to determine if applicants should be lent money for mortgages – but he chose not to investigate his suspicions.
Nelson had originally been charged with 93 counts of forgery and uttering forged documents but in a provincial courtroom in Yarmouth on Monday, March 4, rather than a scheduled preliminary inquiry he instead pleaded guilty to one combined count of uttering a forged document on a new 10-count list of charges. The charge he pled guilty to stated that between Jan. 31, 2006, and Oct. 23, 2008, he did knowingly cause financial institutions to use forged documents, as if they were genuine, for properties in the Yarmouth area. The Crown withdrew the other charges.
An agreed statement of facts presented to the court by the Crown and defence stated that the many different types of documents Nelson would have forwarded to lending institutions included copies of rental agreements and leases from clients.
“Some of these leases included rents that upon further investigation were determined to be inflated,” Crown attorney Alonzo Wright read from the statement of facts. “Mr. Nelson was aware these rents appeared to be inflated but chose not to make further inquiry.”
The inflated numbers, the court was told, could have increased the apparent value of the properties in question.
Nelson’s lawyer Elizabeth Buckle described her client as having acted “willfully blind.” Although he suspected the numbers were false, she said, he passed them along anyway, knowing financial institutions would use the documents in making their decisions on whether to approve mortgages. She said Nelson figured that the lenders would confirm the figures themselves through independent appraisers or through the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.
“Other people involved in this industry, such as appraisers and lenders, were not as diligent as they should have been in dealing with these transactions. In short, my submission is if everyone had done everything they were supposed to do, we probably wouldn’t be here dealing with this,” said Buckle, including her client in that category. “If everyone had applied the kind of attention to detail that they’re required to do we wouldn’t be here.”
As for any financial benefit to Nelson, the court was told that as a mortgage broker he received a commission of 0.85 per cent of one per cent of a total mortgage.
“The total commission of the 33 transactions that were originally part of this prosecution, his total commission was $28,000,” said Buckle. “He is not pleading guilty to all of these transactions, he is not admitting culpability with respect to all of those transactions, so while we haven’t quantified the specific amount I would submit his benefit was substantially less than the total of $28,000, which he earned on all of these transactions in total.”
The court was also told that “less than 10” of mortgages in question ended up in default. A more specific number was not provided.
Nelson was originally charged in June 2011 at the conclusion of an RCMP commercial crime investigation into what the RCMP referred to as a mortgage fraud scheme in Yarmouth. He was one of 11 people charged. Nine others faced charges of fraud and one person of obstructing justice. The RCMP investigation into mortgage activity in Yarmouth was ongoing in 2009 when a housing situation came to a head and tenants found themselves being turned onto the street by landlords who were unable to keep up with utility bills and mortgage payments.
When the RCMP concluded its investigation, it said it believed the total value of the fraud exceeded $6 million. There are cases still weaving their way through the court.
Nelson’s sentence was a joint recommendation from the Crown and defence, which Judge Jim Burrill accepted. Buckle said her client had been a well-respected and community-minded individual who was involved in various organizations prior to the charges being laid. Nelson had no previous criminal record. She said aside from the sentence, Nelson had already been punished in others ways through the humiliation of having been charged, the loss of his community status and also the loss of his livelihood. Nelson lost his licence as a real estate broker years ago and has been unemployed since. She said he’s also had to abide by court conditions for the past two years.
Still, she said he had the financial means to pay the fine within three months.
Buckle noted Nelson’s guilty plea also saved the court considerable time. A preliminary inquiry would have taken weeks, she said, and the judge and jury trial he originally elected would have taken months.
In addition to his $8,000 fine Nelson has to pay $1,200 in court costs.