By Jasmine Franklin
It was an offer that seemed to good to be true — a chance for one Ponoka woman to invest her money in high hopes of pulling out in five years with enough money to share with her children and take a well-needed vacation.
But what Val Wagner, an educational assistant at Ponoka Composite High School, received from her investment wasn’t money. She doesn’t get to buy her daughter the house she hoped to buy, or help her son’s with extra money for the near future. She doesn’t get to relax on a beach with the title of retirement — instead Wagner, 53, got scammed and lost the $100,000 investment she received from her late husband, Dan, who died 10 years ago.
“I never told anyone about it and I never asked,” Wagner said. “They had me so convinced.”
In June of 2005, Wagner was approached by a friend and was told about an investment group that guaranteed safe investment with a large profit. Wagner didn’t have time to investigate the group thoroughly, but said they seemed to be a trustworthy group.
“It was one of those things I just decided to let them handle, you know,” Wagner said. “I should have told somebody, but I really thought it was legit.”
Wagner had the money invested with another group but upon being fully convinced, she moved her money into the hands of the Ponzi schemers alleged to be Gary Sorenson, 66, of Calgary, and Milowe Brost, 55, of Chestermere. Both have been charged with fraud over $5,000, and theft over $5,000. Brost was arrested, while Sorenson is still at large and believed to be in Honduras.
Mounties said the scam operation had operated from 1999 to the end of 2008. The pair managed to get between $100 million, and $400 million from thousands of investors located in Canada, the United States, and internationally.
The RCMP’s Integrated Market Enforcement Team (IMET) began investigating the case three and a half years ago. The pair created a business called Syndicated Gold Depository S.A then formed an agreement to loan money to Merendon Mining Corporation Ltd. for a promise of a high return rate, an RCMP release said.
The promise of high return rate, and tax advantages enticed investors into placing their money in offshore shell companies.
“These people made it seem so legit — there was an online account that enabled you to check the status of your investment,” Wagner said. “I never checked mine because I never needed to.”
The scam was so well planned in fact, that Wagner said on one occasion a man came to her house and showed her the investment planning online.
Sometime last year, Wagner received a call that police were investigating the group, so she called the group and asked about the situation. She was told that the father of another member had died and that the member’s daughter was taking the company to court — that’s what the police were investigating, they told Wagner.
In turn, Wagner was fully-confident in the explanation and denied the police any information.
It wasn’t until this spring — with only one year left before collecting her investment, that Wagner started feeling suspicious. She made some phone calls and was unsuccessful in reaching individuals in the group.
She took her usual two-month vacation in the summer and upon returning home was too preoccupied with her son’s wedding and didn’t have the time to investigate what was going on.
It wasn’t until a phone call Wagner received from a friend last week urging her to read the Calgary Sun, that Wagner discovered she had been scammed.
“When I saw it, I nearly died.”
The article explained it all.
“That was my money from my husband, it was my future plans, it was my life,” Wagner said. “And now I don’t know what I’m going to do.”
“Why? Don’t these people have a conscience?”
Wagner hopes to eventually file a lawsuit.
Anyone who is a victim of this Ponzi scheme is asked to call investigators at (403) 292-8827.