SHUSWAP - Two people trying to buy a cottage on Shuswap Lake last year thought they were getting a great deal when the owner offered to drop his price in half if they could pay in cash and quickly.
They delivered and while they waited and grew increasingly suspicious, they searched the owner's name through Google and found out he was already facing charges for numerous real estate frauds and realized they were his latest victims.
Joshua Douglas Johnston, 36, was sentenced to five years in prison Dec. 30 in Saskatoon provincial court for real estate fraud involving 15 victims who gave him nearly $1.2 million in fake investment schemes. The Shuswap Lake scheme occurred while his case was moving through the courts in Saskatchewan.
From 2008 to 2010, Johnston ran a fraudulent real estate scam out of the Kindersley area, where he enlisted friends and family to help him gain peoples’ trust.
“Promises of large return on investments never seemed to materialize and the investors were routinely rebuffed and assuaged with ongoing lies about imminent payoffs, and in several instances inveigled out of further funds,” Judge Robert Jackson said in his sentencing decision. “The accused however, as soon became apparent, was simply conning all of the investors. No returns were paid and have not been paid to this date, over six years later.”
Johnston filtered the funds through a complex web of some 42 bank accounts that belonged to him, his limited companies, friends and co-workers. From these accounts, he channeled payments to himself and others, including the Hell’s Angels in Calgary, with whom he’d previously been associated.
“The accused by calculated and clever design was able to structure a direct conduit from the pockets of the innocents to his own to maintain an opulent lifestyle. Ironically, he then used this ‘image of success’ to investors to buttress his persona of a successful real estate entrepreneur,” Jackson said.
Johnston pleaded guilty to the 2008 to 2010 offences in October 2014, and was set to be sentenced in February 2015. He promised to use the time in between to get his affairs in order and raise funds towards restitution for his victims. Instead, he kept scamming.
Johnson pretended to own a cottage on Shuswap Lake and tried to sell it for $225,000. The prospective buyer had seen Johnston at the cottage from time to time, and believed him to be the owner. Johnston later dropped the price to $110,000 if the buyers paid soon and with cash. The buyers agreed and paid $110,000 to be held ‘in trust’ until the deal was finalized. Eventually, rising suspicions prompted the buyers to look Johnston up online, where they learned he’d been charged previously with fraud. They still haven’t gotten their $110,000 back.
The judge said Johnston was motivated by ‘pure avarice to support an ostentatious lifestyle’ and that his continued attempts to defraud innocent people with the Shuswap Lake scam showed a callousness.
“His actions have taken a devastating toll upon all of the victims and their families, some of which will never have the ability to recover financially and whose health and retirement plans have been decimated,” Jackson said.
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