Alcohol and e-cigarette company was actually a Ponzi scheme, BCSC finds
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VANCOUVER -- Two men and two companies will face sanctions from the British Columbia Securities Commission after a panel concluded they had committed fraud against investors in connection with a Ponzi scheme.
The panel's findings relate to Todd Norman John Bezzasso, who raised roughly $5 million from 85 investors between February 2015 and March 2016. At the time, Bezzasso was a resident of Richmond.
The investments were solicited for two companies Bezzasso controlled: Bezzaz Holdings Group Ltd. and Nexus Global Trading Ltd. Fellow Richmond resident Wei Kai Liao, also known as Kevin, worked with Bezzasso to raise the funds, according to the BCSC.
In a news release, BCSC said the panel concluded that Bezzasso and his two companies had committed fraud through a Ponzi scheme. It added that Liao had committed fraud against one investor by failing to tell that investor about repayment problems that other investors in the scheme had been facing.
The panel's decision describes attempts by the BCSC to figure out exactly what Bezzasso's companies actually did.
Promotional materials for investors described Bezzaz Holdings as "having various business interests including ownership of Nexus, liquor distribution, the sale of products related to liquor consumption, the sale of health supplements, a door manufacturing business and - in some versions of the promotional materials - the sale of products relating to e-cigarettes," according to the panel's decision.
While Nexus did, in fact, hold liquor distribution licenses issued by the provincial government and did have salespeople selling liquor in the province, BCSC found no evidence that Bezzaz Holdings was involved in any of the other listed businesses, according to the decision.
Indeed, the decision reads:
"Commission investigators asked Bezzasso, through his counsel, whether he had financial statements or other financial records for Holdings and/or Nexus. He confirmed that he had neither."
An accounting firm hired by BCSC to attempt to prepare such financial statements for Holdings and Nexus "was ultimately unable to complete this assignment due to a lack of financial records for the corporate respondents," according to the panel's decision.
Investors in the company were promised returns on their investment between five and 30 per cent, and were given post-dated cheques for these returns, BCSC said in its release.
However, instead of using the money for the businesses the companies purported to be involved in, the panel found that Bezzasso was actually operating a Ponzi scheme, using a large portion of new investors' funds to pay earlier investors their returns.
The panel found that Bezzasso, Bezzaz and Nexus committed fraud against all 85 investors. It found that Liao committed fraud against one investor, sold $1.6 million worth of securities to 27 investors without being registered to do so and acted as an advisor to 12 investors without being registered as an advisor.
An additional allegation of fraud against an employee of Nexus, Fiorino Corsi, was dismissed due to lack of evidence, according to BCSC.
The panel will impose sanctions against Bezzasso, his two companies, and Liao at a later date, after considering submissions from the BCSC and the accused.