NEWS

Bowling champ Lee Escott, charged with fraud, lost at least $200K on sports bets

11/12/2014 04:25 EST | Updated 01/11/2015 05:59 EST
National bowling champion Lee Escott, who is charged with forgery and defrauding the provincial bowling association he once led, is also facing a civil suit alleging he borrowed more than $800,000 from a fellow bowler that was never repaid. 

​Escott is contesting the lawsuit, but has acknowledged in court that he frittered away hundreds of thousands of dollars gambling on sports, through Atlantic Lotto’s Pro-Line.

​Escott, 32, has been bowling since he was five. He has won multiple national youth championships, as well as gold medals in the adult division.

He was elected president of the Newfoundland and Labrador 5 Pin Bowlers' Association (NL5PBA) last fall.

In August, Escott was charged with eight counts of forgery, stemming from cheques alleged to have been written between April 22 and May 16.

In October, an additional charge was added, for allegedly defrauding the NL5PBA of more than $5,000.

Escott was suspended from his role as president when the charges first came to light this summer. In September, he was officially removed from his post, and a new executive was elected.

He's due back in provincial court next month.

$800K civil lawsuit

But CBC Investigates has learned this is not the first time the well-known bowler is alleged to have found himself in the financial gutter — and he has blamed sports gambling for some of those woes.

Weeks before the alleged forgeries took place, Escott was named in a civil suit along with his parents, Mercedes and Edward Escott.

According to court documents filed in March, Roy Douglas, the former part-owner of St. Pat's Bowling Lanes in St. John's, and his wife, Gladys Douglas, say they loaned the Escotts $815,340 since 2008.

The case has not concluded, and their allegations have yet to be confirmed in court.

The Douglases claim the Escotts said they needed the money to pay for administrative and legal fees to release investments in Toronto — but that they were unable to talk specifically about those investments because they were under a gag order.

The plaintiffs say it was understood that the loans were for all three family members, that they were short-term loans and that they would be paid back quickly.

The Douglases claim they have asked for the money several times over the last six years, but the Escotts "have been evasive as to the status of any repayment."

The documents state the Douglases used their personal savings, investments, and RRSPs; borrowed money from family and friends; and mortgaged their home, in order to provide the loans for the Escotts.

Meanwhile, documents show that Lee Escott and his mother acknowledge borrowing money from the Douglases, but "vehemently disagree with the amount claimed."

Edward Escott says he didn't borrow any money, and didn't have any contact with the plaintiffs. According to court documents, he says being named in the suit is "frivolous and vexatious."

The Escotts say the claim is vague, and there is no detailed information about the amount allegedly owed. 

Problems with Pro-Line

Copies of the statement of claim against each family member were delivered to Mercedes Escott in March, but the Escotts failed to submit a defence before the April deadline, so a default order was issued for them to repay the Douglases the total, plus interest and taxes.

The Escotts later asked to be able to file defences, since Lee and Edward claim they never received the paperwork.

In court documents, Mercedes Escott says she briefly reviewed the suit, "but upon seeing the total amount claimed, ceased her review and hid the statement of claim in her closet." She said she didn’t inform her husband or son about the lawsuit.

That default judgment against Lee and Edward Escott has since been set aside, and they have filed statements of defence.

Before the judge made that decision, the Escotts were questioned in court, during a judgment debtor examination in May.

Lee Escott said then he wasn't sure of the exact amount he had borrowed from Roy Douglas.

But Escott acknowledged it was more than $200,000, and possibly upwards of $300,000 or more.

At that May examination in Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court, Escott said all of that money was gambled away on Pro-Line.

During Mercedes Escott's testimony, she said she had no idea how much she had borrowed from Roy Douglas.

"I don't know, now, and that's the truth. Because when I saw that amount that was on that paper, I literally... nearly died," she said.

She said that, between herself and Lee, they borrowed close to $400,000 from Roy Douglas.

The mother said it all started with investments gone wrong.

"I was at stocks, and I had lost something on it, and I needed to borrow from Mr. Douglas to pay off a few bills at the beginning," she said.

From there, she said, every penny that she received from Douglas went to her son.

"I knew at the beginning it all had to do with stocks and stuff. And since recently, I found out that he was, [had] different stuff included, which was the gambling problem," she said.

"That was really basically the first part of the money that I had gotten from Roy, it was basically on [the stocks]. The rest... I just don't know where it is. We don't have any."

Both Lee and Mercedes Escott acknowledged that none of the money was forwarded to any lawyers in Toronto.

The matter is still before the courts.

Lee Escott did not respond to multiple interview requests. Mercedes Escott declined comment.

Roy Douglas opted not to speak with CBC Investigates, citing the ongoing civil action.

Bowling association resets its pins

The Newfoundland and Labrador 5 Pin Bowlers' Association also won’t speak to the fraud and forgery charges against its former president.

"We have no comment on any matters regarding Lee Escott," it said. 

"The NL5PBA are concentrating all efforts on the 2014/15 bowling season and rebuilding our sport. We look forward to a successful year and representing Newfoundland and Labrador at a national level."

The NL5PBA faced more troubles this summer, at the tail end of Escott’s tenure as president. The group was suspended from the Canadian 5 Pin Bowlers' Association when more than $20,000 in outstanding fees were not paid —temporarily affecting the competitive status of about 1,000 bowlers in the province.

Someone stepped in and paid those dues, and the NL5PBA was reinstated in August.

MORE:cbcNews