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B.C. basketball fan still seeking answers after Magic Johnson meet-up that wasn't

Gerald Da Roza shared photos of some of his basketball memorabilia, including lots of Los Angeles Lakers and Magic Johnson-related items. (Gerald Da Roza) Gerald Da Roza shared photos of some of his basketball memorabilia, including lots of Los Angeles Lakers and Magic Johnson-related items. (Gerald Da Roza)

In 2018, Gerald Da Roza thought he was going to meet his childhood sports hero.

"I started watching basketball in 1985," said Da Roza, who today is a physician and the head of medicine at Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster.

"This was, obviously, before we had our own NBA team … At that time, you were kind of either a Celtics or a Lakers fan, because those were the two best teams."

Da Roza picked the Lakers.

"Being from the West Coast and just the style, the way they played basketball, I fell in love with the Lakers," he said. "Magic Johnson was my favourite player."

His love for basketball – and Magic, in particular – persists to this day, which is why when friends of his saw advertisements for a business conference in Vancouver that was slated to feature a keynote speech from the legendary point guard, they shared the details with Da Roza.

'The end-all and be-all'

The event was called the BCPRENEUR Summit, and it was scheduled to take place at Parq Vancouver, the then-recently-completed downtown casino and hotel complex, on May 19 and 20, 2018.

The event's website is long dead, but an archived version advertises a "limited quantity" of two-day VIP passes for sale. 

According to Da Roza, the VIP tickets came with the opportunity for a "meet-and-greet" with Magic Johnson after his speech. They also offered access to both days of the event and the "30-plus exhibitors" and "20-plus visionary entrepreneur speakers" advertised on the archived website.

For Da Roza, though, there was only one VIP perk that mattered.

"The opportunity to meet (Magic) and get to talk to him was, probably, the end-all and be-all," he said.

Da Roza contacted the event's organizers to make sure VIP passes were still available, eventually sending an e-transfer for $1,425 to the summit's sales email address.

Magic Johnson was Gerald Da Roza's favourite basketball player when he was growing up. Today, Da Roza has photos, posters and memorabilia related to Magic and other Los Angeles Lakers players on display in his home. (Gerald Da Roza)

'It's a terrible feeling'

Email correspondence he shared with CTV News shows Da Roza was told he would receive an invoice marked "paid" once the transfer was processed, and which he could present at the event to receive his VIP lanyard.

No invoice ever came.

As the event got closer, Da Roza reached out to his contact, Jeffrey Shaughnessy, to ask what had happened.

Emails show Shaughnessy responded that the event had been postponed until October, and promised to send Da Roza a full refund within a week.

The correspondence stretches on for more than a year, past the date of the supposedly rescheduled event, which never took place, across multiple email addresses for Shaughnessy after messages to his initial address of started bouncing back.

Through it all, Da Roza maintains a cordial tone. At one point, he offers to accept a partial repayment of his funds, only to have to follow up again when the promised $850 e-transfer fails to materialize.

"I try not to be an unreasonable person," Da Roza said when asked about the lengthy back-and-forth.

"I kind of try and assume the best and give people the benefit of the doubt. You don't always understand someone's story, right?"

Da Roza said Shaughnessy seemed like a businessman who was dealing with the financial fallout of a venture that failed for reasons outside his control. Over time, though, Da Roza's patience began to wear out.

"As he kept on stalling and coming up with multiple excuses, then I realized, 'OK, I think I'm being defrauded here,'" he said. "It's a terrible feeling."

BCSC sanctions

Unbeknownst to Da Roza, Shaughnessy's actions were also being scrutinized by the B.C. Securities Commission.

In May 2021, Shaughnessy was arrested by Vancouver police in connection to a BCSC Criminal Investigations Branch probe. He was charged with two counts of fraud over $5,000 and two counts of theft over $5,000, according to a BCSC news release from the time

Ultimately, Shaughnessy pleaded guilty to one count of "obtaining credit by false pretence or fraud." The other charges against him were stayed, according to the BC Prosecution Service.

In June 2022, he was sentenced to three months of house arrest and ordered to pay a total of $29,000 in restitution to members of two families from whom he had raised money to organize the BCPRENEUR Summit. 

"Shaughnessy presented the couples with materials related to the proposed event, and the couples invested funds to be used for the event," reads a sanctions decision from the BCSC issued earlier this year, in which Shaughnessy was banned from the province's financial markets for life for his misconduct. 

"Shaughnessy told the couples that they would receive increased returns on their investments and that, if the event did not work out, Shaughnessy would give their investments back."

In fact, the company that Shaughnessy presented as organizing the event had already ceased operation at the time he requested the investments, according to the decision.

One of the couples provided $10,000 and the other provided $19,000. Shaughnessy used the funds for his own purposes, including at a casino, the decision notes.

CTV News asked both the BCSC and the BCPS whether Shaughnessy ever paid the restitution he was ordered to as part of his sentence. Each organization said the other would be better positioned to answer that question.

"As it was ordered under the Criminal Code, the BCSC has no jurisdiction to enforce the order," a spokesperson for the securities commission said in an email.

For its part, the prosecution service explained that the restitution order was made under a section of the Criminal Code that is sometimes referred to as a "stand-alone restitution order."

"Pursuant to s.741 of the Code, if part of the restitution remains unpaid by the deadline set out in the order, enforcement of the court order can be pursued by the victims filing it as a judgment in civil (small claims) court," a BCPS spokesperson said in an email.

"The BCPS is not part of this civil procedure."

'At least he got caught, right?'

Da Roza gave up on getting his money back years ago, but seeing Shaughnessy's name in the news last month gave him some "satisfaction," he said.

"It still bothers me, to a certain degree, that he quote-unquote 'got away with it' and, like, took people's money without any sort of penalty," Da Roza said. "I think the fact that he's banned (from the securities markets) … It's still a consequence, right?"

Shaughnessy stopped communicating with Da Roza after Da Roza sent him a letter from a lawyer demanding repayment and threatening legal action for breach of contract.

Da Roza said he never contacted police about the situation, because he felt the issue was a civil matter rather than a criminal one.

"I thought he was dodging because he didn't have the money," Da Roza said. "I didn't conceptualize that this could've been a scam from the outset. To be fair, I don't even know if that's true."

Asked whether it had received any reports from people who bought tickets to the BCPRENEUR Summit and didn't get their money back, the Vancouver Police Department said it had no such files.

Still, Da Roza worries he's not the only person who paid for tickets to the non-event.

"I do have some fortune, as a physician, that the amount of money I spent – while it was a large amount of money for one event – wasn't going to affect my livelihood significantly," he said. "I have no idea, but I would suspect I'm not the only person who got swindled in this situation."

Da Roza said he believes in karma "in a general sense," and sees Shaughnessy's guilty plea and market ban in that context.

"I just kind of feel like if you do good things and you're a good person, then good things will happen," he said. "And if you do bad things and you're a bad person then, you know, you will eventually get caught."

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