West Vancouver woman admits to $30-million Ponzi scheme
The B.C. Securities Commission (BCSC) offices in downtown Vancouver. (File Photo)
A West Vancouver woman has admitted in a settlement agreement with the B.C. Securities Commission that she fraudulently raised at least $30 million from investors in a Ponzi scheme.
Virginia Mary Tan, in her mid-60s, has agreed to a $3-million penalty as part of the settlement.
Tan is also subject to sweeping securities commission bans preventing her from operating in any investment capacity in British Columbia. She is permanently prohibited from becoming or acting as a promoter or in any consultative investment capacity. She is also prohibited from buying securities and being a director or officer of a company that issues securities.
A Vancouver Sun investigation, reported last year, found nearly 50 investors from the Lower Mainland, Victoria, the Gulf Islands and as far away as Singapore and the United Kingdom were trying to recoup $40 million from Tan in an alleged Ponzi scheme through civil court actions.
In an announcement Wednesday, the B.C. Securities Commission said an investigation found that Tan raised about $30 million between 2011 and 2015 from investors to whom she issued promissory notes. The notes stated the investments were for short-term financing.
However, Tan did not use the money for short-term financing, and made interest and principal payments to investors from money she raised from other investors, and with a small amount of her own funds, the securities commission stated.
This is an example of a Ponzi scheme, named after Charles Ponzi, who ran such a scheme in the 1920s in the United States in which investors are paid by other investors’ money, not from profits from a business venture.
The $30 million that Tan raised from investors between 2011 and 2015 was about the same amount she paid investors in principal and interest payments during the period, said the commission.
However, many investors suffered substantial losses as a result of their investments with Tan, said Doug Muir, director of enforcement for the securities commission.
“As typical with Ponzi schemes there is what we would call net winners. There are some people, often ones who get in early, that end up sometimes making money off these things,” Muir said in an interview.
He said their investigation did not determine how much investor money was outstanding, or how many investors were part of the Ponzi scheme or had lost money.
Tan could not be reached on Wednesday. The phone at her business, Letan Investments, is out of service. She did no reply to email inquiries.
According to The Sun’s investigation, which included a review of hundreds of pages of B.C. Supreme Court documents, Tan’s investor dealings began among friends and circulated among relatives and acquaintances, including a circle of people in the congregation of Christ The Redeemer Catholic Church in West Vancouver.
Tan promised investors interest payments ranging from 12 to 24 per cent.
Among the investors were businesspeople, retirees, university students and at least one accountant.
Court documents showed some investors claimed they lost life-savings, including four priests, and at least one couple said they put up their home for sale because of their investment losses.
The Ponzi scheme collapsed in 2015, when Tan could no longer make payments, according to the securities commission.
While Tan is subject to the $3-million penalty, Muir noted that the securities commission would be in line after investors in bankruptcy proceedings. (The commission has collected less than one per cent of penalties in the past three years).
Preliminary bankruptcy filings from 2016 showed Virginia Tan and her immediate family had assets of $2.55 million.
Boale, Wood & Co., the bankruptcy trustees, are pursuing recovery of assets. For example, the Tan family home, in the 900-block Greenwood in West Vancouver, is now held by the trustee.
The settlement agreement noted that Virginia Tan’s only current source of income is her Canada Pension Plan and other old age benefits.