Ottawa senior says he lost life savings investing with company now facing fraud charges

An Ottawa senior citizen says he lost his life savings after investing with a real estate development firm that has been charged with fraud.

Now, 75-year-old Barry Stevens must continue to work just to make ends meet.

Stevens says when he invested $400,000 with Fortress Real Developments back in 2012, his entire retirement savings, everything seemed legitimate.

“It was the eight-and-a-half per cent interest which was the big lure,” says Stevens. “I was presented with a number of potential high-rise buildings in the Toronto and Calgary area that I could invest in with the promise that after three years I could get my money back.”

The investment was for developing large multi-unit condo buildings and skyscrapers through a syndicated mortgage fund, which is when two or more people invest in a single mortgage for one property. Stevens was happy with his decision at first, and says that one of the funds was yielding a $20,000 return - on statements.

“My wife and I went to make claim to one of the investments that as far as we were concerned had come to term we were told yes that should be available to you by mid-November,” says Stevens. “Then, when I called to go and pick it up, I was told, ‘Oh, did you not get our letter stipulating that everything had gone under and that the money wasn’t available?’ … out of the $400,000 I had in there, I got $12,000 back one year.”

Stevens says he lost everything.

In June, Fortress Real Development founders Jawad Rathore, of Markham, Ont., and Vince Petrozza of Richmond Hill, Ont., were charged with fraud and secret commissions under the criminal code.

The RCMP say the charges come after an investigation, dubbed Project Dynasty, which began in 2016 when police received complaints related to the business activities of the firm.

"In particular, allegations were received that the company was fraudulently obtaining investments in a syndicated mortgage investment scheme," RCMP said in a statement. "It is alleged that the founders of Fortress Real Developments engaged in fraud by orchestrating an ongoing scheme whereby they did not disclose the various risks to brokers and investors."

The charges have not been proven in court. The company denies the allegations on its website.

Fortress Real Developments was the developer behind a now-scrapped $180 million, 388-unit skyscraper project in Winnipeg.

With his retirement gone, Stevens must continue to work and says he will have to for the rest of his life. Last year, he was a part-time Uber driver until his vehicle was involved in a crash, which proved too expensive to repair. Currently, he works as a security guard in downtown Ottawa.

“It makes it difficult getting up as early as I do in the morning five days a week, and I’m not getting any younger, but I don’t see any other way that we would be able to keep a roof over our heads,” he says, adding that all he wants for now is to see a criminal conviction. “Hopefully justice will be provided to several hundred or thousands of people that were affected similar to myself.”