Brothers plead guilty to bilking investors

"I'm not interested in going to jail any more," Mr. Hardiman says, adding that he preferred prison conditions in the Philippines to the cramped quarters and hard-core criminal clientele in Toronto Jail. "I was in the Don Jail, and I don't think I want to go back. They're not my kind of people in there, you know."

The Globe and Mail
July 26, 2004

Brothers plead guilty to bilking investors
Guy Abbate

Police and TTC investigators say he cost the transit system hundreds of thousands of dollars running a fake transit-ticket business that was among the biggest they have seen, producing as many as 500 counterfeit fares a day.

But Larry Charles Hardiman's musty Junction-area basement apartment, underneath what appears to be a defunct pizza joint, doesn't look like the headquarters of a fraud kingpin.

Sitting on a beat-up office chair among his crude, homemade-looking furniture, a metre-long fish tank and several computers in various states of disrepair, the 50-year-old Mr. Hardiman says his fake-ticket-making days are over. The TTC is overstating the extent of his scam, he says, making him look like some sort of public transit super-villain.

"It was like a mom-and-pop operation," he says, "not a million-dollar thing, you know?"

He was surprised last week, he says, when he saw his name — and details of his past — included in the transit authority's announcement of its crackdown on ticket fraudsters. Officials trumpeted the fact they had charged more than 300 users and makers of fake tickets, including Mr. Hardiman.

Police had burst in on his apartment a year ago and found him in his boxer shorts, fussing with a perforation machine, images of TTC tickets displayed on a computer screen. Hundreds of half-finished counterfeit tickets were seized. Mr. Hardiman pleaded guilty, served five months in the notorious Toronto Jail (formerly the Don) and is now on probation.

But he's done his time and says he figured that chapter of his life was now over. Since his release from prison in the fall, he's been collecting welfare and looking for a job, he says, and spends many days visiting his wife, Loretta, in Toronto Rehab hospital, where she's recovering from a recent stroke.

He insists he made "a little more" than a thousand dollars through the scam and says the TTC only linked him to 7,000 seized tickets and is inflating its figures. But there's more to Mr. Hardiman than meets the eye — including tales of a $25-million international credit-card fraud scheme, a fake passport, assumed names, two years in a Philippine jail and a self-described fight for "human rights." If everything he says is to be believed, the TTC ticket scam is small potatoes compared to other ventures in which he's been involved.

A faded picture in his apartment shows a younger Mr. Hardiman with bushier hair, his eyes shielded by giant aviator sunglasses. He is leaning on a silver BMW and smiling. Behind the car are palm trees.

The photo was taken 20 years ago, he says, in Bangkok, where he said he lived for a while, providing audio systems for nightclubs owned by Westerners. Mr. Hardiman says he was raised in Scarborough, but divulges little about his family life. He went to a technical high school, and by the 1970s was a regular around Rochdale College, the infamous hippies-and-drugs hotbed.

But then it shut down, and there was a warrant for his arrest on a drug charge. (The charges were dropped and the file was destroyed in 1985, he says, leaving him with a clean record.)

He travelled for a while, to Morocco, the Canary Islands and Bangkok, then ended up in the Philippines, where he discovered a massive nightclub scene clustered around the U.S. military base. "There were hundreds of nightclubs and they were filled with women," he says, laughing, describing U.S. soldiers as "party animals." He decided to stay.

Soon, he says, he was running a company that made advertising signs, which he called Allen and Miller, although there was no one involved with either of those names. Big multinational companies sometimes paid him in products instead of cash, he says, which he resold from his warehouse. He met Loretta, a Filipina who ran a beauty parlour, while shopping one day. Life was good.

"In Asia, I lived like a real rich person, in a big house, with servants and stuff," he says, a bare florescent light above his head.

But in 1997 his good life caught up with him. "I was accused of stealing $25-million from 52 different banks," he says nonchalantly.

Local and international media covered what Philippine authorities said were arrests that had broken open a sophisticated ring making fake credit cards. One of the suspects was Mr. Hardiman — known then as Raymond Jackson, the name on his false U.S. passport — and he went from his comfortable existence to a Philippine jail.

"It was pretty rough," he says. "You know, they don't feed you in the jails there. They give you like two, three cups of rice a day, that's it. If you don't have somebody bringing food, you starve."

He was later acquitted, he says, but that doesn't mean he wasn't involved: "Yeah, I was found innocent. But I'm not saying that I was completely innocent there. I was involved in that and I have quite an extensive knowledge about it."

All he will acknowledge today is that he allowed his company's printing plant to be used to make the fraudulent credit cards, and benefited as a result. (TTC tickets, he says, were a lot easier to fake, requiring only run-of-the-mill inkjet printers.) He says he doesn't have any leftover offshore money.

After his acquittal in 1999, he says he became a thorn in the side of Philippine authorities because they refused to return his seized equipment and merchandise. He says corrupt police had already sold it all off and pocketed the cash. To back up his tales, he brandishes thick files of Philippine press clippings and other documents.

He was soon rearrested on immigration charges — the false passport — and held for two years. While in a Philippine immigration detention centre, he says he organized other prisoners to go on a hunger strike to protest against what he says were arbitrary detentions for foreigners. He proudly shows a visitor a photo of a banner they made declaring that the government was holding foreign prisoners for ransom. He says he even worried for a time about whether he would be assassinated in the Philippines, and that he was accompanied to court hearings by a convoy of police.

Finally, he was deported to Toronto in October of 2001 at the Philippine government's expense. Back in Canada, stripped of everything he once had, he started saving money to try to pay for Loretta to join him.

He says he worked odd jobs, but began to get into ticket fraud because he was only saving about $100 a month and needed $1,500 to pay Loretta's immigration fees. It was easy to do, he says. "A high school student could do it."

While he won't say exactly how much money the fake-ticket business brought in, he insists the TTC's initial claims that he cost the system as much as $500,000 are exaggerated: "It was only a bunt, and they're turning it into a home run."

In an interview after the TTC's fraud-crackdown press conference, investigator Mark Russell adjusted the transit authority's estimated losses attributable to Mr. Hardiman to $252,000, saying he had made a "mathematical error."

Mr. Russell explains the transit authority's calculation this way: On several days in 2003, as many as 500 tickets linked to Mr. Hardiman were found in the system. If the number remained that high over the eight months that the TTC says it was certain he was making tickets, that's 112,000 tickets. At $2.25 a pop, he is estimated to have cost the system about $252,000.

But that doesn't mean Mr. Hardiman pocketed a quarter of a million dollars in bogus ticket profits. Fake tickets usually sell for a steep discount, around $1, and Mr. Hardiman was also paying a woman — with several aliases — to distribute them, taking a cut of as much as 50 per cent out of whatever profit he might have made. (She was also caught and charged.)

With the story of his scam making headlines across the city, the past week has been hard on him, he says. After news reports documented his alleged profits, a welfare officer phoned to grill him about his financial situation and the motorcycle he owns, which he says was a present from his wife.

And he fears that now, with his name tainted in the press and his criminal record, he will have even more trouble finding a job. He says he has applied for more than 200 positions.

He insists he plans to stay on the straight and narrow, and that materials police found in his apartment that appeared to suggest he was trying to get back into credit-card fraud were "research" for an "underground" Internet book he was planning to write.

"I'm not interested in going to jail any more," Mr. Hardiman says, adding that he preferred prison conditions in the Philippines to the cramped quarters and hard-core criminal clientele in Toronto Jail.

"I was in the Don Jail, and I don't think I want to go back. They're not my kind of people in there, you know."


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