Smooth-talking con enjoyed the high life

At his sentencing last year, Madam Justice Louise Gauthier said Montpellier may only be able to imagine the anxiety, pain and real fear that he inflicted on investors…"Based on what he did, I don't think he could have had a conscience," said Jenkins.

The Toronto Star
April 20, 2005

Smooth-talking con enjoyed the high life
Tony Van Alphen

"I'm the man."
— Con man Charles Ponzi

For a time, Pierre Alfred Montpellier was the man, too.

He ran two high-profile investment companies in his hometown of Sudbury. He bought a big house on a lake. He sported the finest Armani suits. He wheeled around town in a Mercedes-Benz and a Lincoln Navigator. He played golf at the best clubs. He stayed at top hotels while travelling. He showered money on his family, friends and charitable causes. He loved the high life and the attention.

He was also a con.

Like Charles Ponzi, the infamous American huckster who fleeced Bostonians out of millions in 1920, Montpellier worked the classic scheme of enticing money from investors and paying them high returns by raising funds from other clients until he could no longer keep it up.

Montpellier convinced people to remortgage their homes and elderly people to put their life savings in his care. At one point, he branched out and enticed the wealthy Posluns family of former Dylex retail fame in Toronto to look at an investment plan, but they backed out.

The game continued for three years until it fell apart in late 1998. Montpellier fled the country, but detectives finally caught up with him in England in 2001.

He described the collapse as "an unfortunate series of events." Police called it fraud and theft of about $5.34 million from more than 125 clients.

Montpellier spent 2 1/2 years in pre-trial custody, pleaded guilty in April 2004 and received a further two-year prison sentence.

He gained full parole just before Christmas after brief stints at Beaver Creek Institution in Gravenhurst and a halfway house.

Montpellier is free now but he hit the end of the road earlier this week as a sweet-talking salesman and financial adviser.

The Ontario Securities Commission, or OSC, banned Montpellier from trading in securities permanently. It also terminated his registration as a salesman and prohibited him from acting as an officer or director of a publicly traded company.

Furthermore, a commission panel took the extra step of not allowing Montpellier to engage in personal trading through a registered intermediary for a registered retirement savings plan account of which he is the sole beneficiary.

The commission concluded Montpellier's conduct was "conspicuously offensive" and "egregious" in obtaining the trust of investors and then defrauding them.

"He took advantage of and cheated them by his unfair, dishonest and bad faith dealings in running an illegal ‘Ponzi scheme,’ thus rendering them victims while he self-indulged at their expense."
Montpellier, 43, could not be reached for comment on the OSC's order.

Earlier this year, Montpellier had made one last pitch to convince a commission panel that there were extenuating circumstances behind his criminal behaviour. He wanted the commission to show some leniency.

"I'm trying to avoid having my past hijack my future," he told the commission.

In a final submission to the OSC panel, Montpellier said he rang up high travel expenses in pursuit of rich clients elsewhere and the one big overseas investment that just didn't work out for his customers. He said securing that big investment was why he flew to London in December 1998.

Montpellier didn't talk about the $850,000 house or luxury cars but he did acknowledge clothing as his "one vice."

Evidence at his trial showed he spent about $200,000 on clothes over a 2 1/2 -year period as retirees and workers poured their savings into his firms for safe investments.

"It was the ‘dress for success’ idea," he said in his OSC submission. "It's the old adage, you must play the part to be the part. This is not uncommon at this level. I truly felt I had arrived." Montpellier, who was born and educated in Sudbury, started his business career as a junior accountant. He moved to the insurance industry and worked at Mutual Life and North American Life.

In 1994, the OSC licensed him to sell mutual funds under the sponsorship of Regal Capital Planners. He set out on his own the following year by forming Foreign Capital Corp. and Montpellier Group Inc.

"At Montpellier Group, we believe the dream is yours," Montpellier said in a promotional leaflet. The smooth-talking promoter in the expensive suits convinced investors to put their money into private placements and a "trading program."

"He was well-liked, respected, generous and had the gift of gab," said Det. Sgt. Leon Jenkins, the Ontario Provincial Police's lead investigator in the case. "He even held seminars at a hospital."

In his pitches to prospective clients, Montpellier talked about a major international bank securing their investments and pooling money for loans to foreign countries or purchasing bank instruments. He promised interest payments for clients at a guaranteed rate between 7 and 20 per cent.

Montpellier also said he would receive a portion of the investors' profits but would not get any of the capital they invested.

Family members, relatives, friends and elderly retirees believed Montpellier and entrusted him with their savings. Their investments ranged from a few thousand dollars to almost $950,000 by one family.

But evidence revealed there was no trading program. Montpellier transferred most of the funds to other investors through interest payments or converted the money for his own use. He boosted his standing in the city by giving thousands of dollars to schools, art galleries, hospitals, the local theatre and sports teams.

Evidence at the trial also disclosed Montpellier and his companies squandered almost $400,000 on bank service charges alone. Advertising bills at Foreign Capital Corp. totalled $290,000. His firms used more than $100,000 for corporate sponsorships and another $424,000 ended up with Montpellier family members.

By December 1997, the money was running out. Many clients stopped getting their full quarterly payments. A few months later, they were receiving only partial payments.

When clients called, the companies blamed the delays on technical glitches and encouraged them to reinvest. In August 2001, the OPP charged Montpellier with 302 counts of theft and fraud and filed an extradition warrant with Scotland Yard. They arrested him at his London flat a month later. Montpellier had married an English woman and was working as a recruiter of nurses for hospitals.

At his sentencing last year, Madam Justice Louise Gauthier said Montpellier may only be able to imagine the anxiety, pain and real fear that he inflicted on investors.

More than 100 investors, including some Montpellier family members, sued him, his firms and numerous other parties. They settled out of court earlier this year with several parties — excluding Montpellier — paying 65 per cent of their losses.

But it was of little consolation for some retirees who died before he pleaded guilty.

One elderly woman, who had worked in a convenience store all her life, put her life savings in his care and retired. When her savings disappeared with Montpellier, the woman was forced to return to work at another convenience store until she died.

"Based on what he did, I don't think he could have had a conscience," said Jenkins.

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Risks: Ponzi (pyramid) scheme, Ontario Securities Commission, Convicted fraud artist, Outright scam, Ontario Provincial Police, Without conscience, Canada, 20050420 Smooth-talking

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