NEWS

Canadian mastermind of penny stock fraud sought by U.S.

08/14/2013 01:13 EDT | Updated 10/14/2013 05:12 EDT
U.S. authorities are on the hunt for a Canadian man described as the mastermind behind one of the largest international penny stock frauds in history.

Sandy Winick, formerly of Stoney Creek, Ont., is believed to be hiding in Thailand. He is one of nine people charged in connection with the $140-million dollar scheme which bilked investors over several years from North America to Europe to Asia.

“Where others looked at the globe and saw citizens of the world, Winick and his co-conspirators saw only potential marks,” said Loretta Lynch, U.S. attorney for New York..

U.S. authorities say the scheme, involving penny stock sold through call centres, was orchestrated by four Canadians and carried out with the help of five Americans. Seven of the nine have been arrested.

One of the Canadians — Gregory Ellis, 46 — was arrested in Toronto, and another Kolt Curry, 38, was among six suspects arrested in the U.S. The U.S. is seeking extradition of Ellis from Canada to face charges there.

But two other Canadians are being sought, including Winick, who "orchestrated" the schemes and had lived in Canada, the U.S., China, Thailand and Vietnam.

“Sandy Winick is currently in Thailand, and in his own words, attempting to hide from U.S. authorities,” Lynch said.

A second Canadian man — 63-year-old Gregory Curry, father of Kolt Curry — is also at large.

A joint investigation by the Department of Justice, the FBI and the RCMP used wiretaps and video surveillance to uncovered the so-called pump and dump scheme,

According to the indictment filed in court, the defendants worked from throwaway cellphones and from call centres in Thailand and Canada.

The penny stocks involved included companies such as Resource Group International, a Wyoming corporation based in Thailand that says it developed a revolutionary fertilizer, and RainEarth Inc., a Nevada corporation based in Beijing that says it is in the mineral-exploration business and developing a specialized fibre, according to prosecutors.

Penny stocks are lightly traded and can easily be manipulated through sales pitches to investors and false rumours posted on message boards. Most trade over-the-counter, rather than on major exchanges.

The indictment alleges that the nine people involved in the scheme promoted the stocks through phone calls, artificially inflating their value by promoting them in fictitious emails, social media messages and news releases.

"They acquired interest in these target stocks for a nominal cost and promoted them through a variety of means," according to FBI agent April Brooks.

Sometimes they would hit their victims a second time, helping them offload the worthless stocks or join lawsuits to reclaim their losses for an advance fee.

It is alleged that Gregory Curry helped manage the call centres in Canada, Vietnam and Thailand, working with his son. The pair prepared letters and email accounts to promote the con, the indictment filed in New York Tuesday, said.

The fraudulent sales campaign generated more than $140 million in investments by tens of thousands of people from the United States, Canada and 33 other countries, authorities said. The list of victims includes several hundred Canadians.

The four Canadians and five Americans face charges including securities fraud, wire fraud and impersonation of IRS employees.

MORE:cbcNews