Jim Can, a Canadian businessman wanted as part of a major U.S. investigation involving stock fraud, tax evasion and money laundering in Belize, has a controversial past in Canada, including an admission he was present during a violent kidnapping of a Calgary businessman who says he was held at gunpoint by two associates of the Hells Angels.
Can faces several charges in the U.S. following a two-year undercover investigation by the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office. He is accused along with five others, including another Canadian, of taking part in what is described by U.S. authorities as a "fraudulent" and "intricate" scheme involving sham companies, anonymous debit cards and stock manipulations worth more than $500 million US.
Can is a stock promoter who lived in Calgary for many years before moving to Belize.
"Jim Can was raised in Germany, where he received most of his formal education, acquiring an MBA from the Goethe Business School in Frankfurt," says an online profile about Can on a website where CEOs can pay to promote themselves.
"He is fluent in English, German and Turkish. He now resides just outside the Calgary, Canada, city limits with his wife and two children."
According to CBC News inquiries, the Goethe Business School in Frankfurt has no record of a Jim Can — or Cem Can, as he’s also known — graduating from the school.
CBC News also confirmed Can faces fresh allegations here at home and is under investigation by the Alberta Securities Commission.
"He’s a big fish for a number of reasons," says George Sharp, a U.S whistleblower who is suing a company linked to Can, accusing it of stock fraud in the U.S. and Canada.
"These guys are playing shell games. They are snake oil salesmen."
Hells Angels connection
A CBC News investigation into Can’s past revealed he was arrested in 2003, along with two associates of the Hells Angels, on allegations of extortion and kidnapping related to a stock deal gone bad. The charges were later dropped because of concerns about the reliability of the alleged victim.
He had previously been convicted of perjury. Can sued the Calgary Police Service for wrongful arrest. He lost that argument twice in court and currently is appealing to the Alberta Court of Appeal. The alleged victim told police he was called to an isolated warehouse in Calgary where he says he was held against his will at gunpoint by the Hells Angels associates.
One associate told the alleged victim to "shut the [expletive] up and show him respect," the court documents say. "He then pulled out a gun and said that he was just going to shoot him now because they weren't getting anywhere with him."
The documents continue: "He cocked the gun, put it to [the alleged victim’s] head and said, ‘Give the word, I'll do it.’"
In court documents, Can denies playing a role in any extortion and kidnapping, but he admits to being at the warehouse, with the Hells Angels associates, while the extortion was allegedly taking place.
"The evidence amply demonstrates that the police had reasonable and probable grounds to arrest and charge Mr. Can as a participant in the extortion," wrote the Alberta judge in her decision to deny Can’s attempt to sue the police for wrongful arrest.
Link to BluForest stock alleged fraud scheme
In 2013, a California-based stock fraud whistleblower sued Can, and a company he is linked to, for allegedly operating what’s referred to as a "pump and dump" scheme. That’s when a stock is falsely hyped to increase trading volume and lure investors who eventually lose their money once the stock value disappears.
George Sharp says he launched his lawsuit against a company called BluForest in order to warn potential investors about Can.
"I bought into a particular stock scam as I sometimes do just so I can become involved and look at the scam and expose it for what it is," he told CBC News in an interview.
"I started doing some digging and asking questions and a person came up to me and said, the person you are looking to investigate in this stock scam is Jim Can."
In court documents Can describes himself as a "lender" and "adviser" to BluForest. It’s a company based in Ecuador that claims to sell and buy carbon credits around the world.
"In order to induce the plaintiff as well as other members of the public to purchase its common stock, the defendants made deliberately false, misleading and false, express representations," says the complaint filed in court.
The allegations are yet to be proven.
In its response in court, BluForest denies being involved in the artificial stock inflation scheme. Can was later dropped from the lawsuit for jurisdictional reasons.
He is now suing Sharp for defamation and extortion in Florida. He accuses Sharp of threatening to go public with his allegations unless Can paid him. Sharp denies those allegations and says he is pleased Can has been charged in the U.S. for his activities in Belize, because investors are now warned.
For many, however, the warning came too late, he says.
"Very few rich people get taken by these characters like Jim Can. The targets of these schemes are people who are looking to get rich quick. You are talking about seniors, students, single mothers — they are the ones most susceptible to get-rich schemes."
CBC News made several attempts to contact BluForest, but nobody from the company returned our calls or emails.
On Sept. 25, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission announced a temporary halt on trading of BluForest stock "because of questions regarding the adequacy and accuracy of information."
Alleged Canadian victims
CBC News has discovered at least 10 Canadians invested in BluForest, from Calgary, Toronto and Vancouver, who together lost as much as $400,000, they say.
"This is a textbook pump and dump scheme," one Calgary investor told CBC News on the condition his name would be withheld.
He says he’s afraid of Can.
"He's just a very convincing individual and he promises you the world. He told me, ‘This is the deal of the century.’"
The Calgary man says he invested and lost $200,000 in the company. And, he says, he was responsible for introducing the stock to several other Canadian investors.
"I feel like I was part of this whole thing and I've hurt a lot of people, a lot of close people. It's hurt a lot of my connections and it's definitely hurt me," he says.
A second Calgary investor contacted by CBC News says he lost $75,000 on BluForest.
Both investors say they don’t expect to see any of their money returned, even if Can is eventually convicted.
"That ship, in my opinion, has long sailed," says the second investor. Both have recently been in contact with the Alberta Securities Commission to report the alleged scheme.
"They have a file on Jim and they are actively pursuing it. There is a long list of people out there that have been through what I’ve been through," says one.
"I will be going into the Alberta Securities Commission in the next couple of weeks to go under oath give them my testimony," says the other. "It's affected me quite a bit. I am struggling a lot right now financially. I'd like to see him behind bars."