City man burned by pizza franchise scam

"We had victims in four provinces — Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba and Saskatchewan — and I'd received information from 10 people and two in the United States," said lead investigator Detective Fred Kerr with the York Regional Police. "It's quite involved."

The Winnipeg Free Press
February 13, 2007

City man burned by pizza franchise scam
Alexandra Paul

HISHAM ALARD did a double take when he tuned into a television news show recently about a pizza franchise scam where Canadians lost their life savings.

Alard was among a group of pizza franchise buyers who hoped to make lots of dough, but ended up being burned by the chain, operated out of Toronto.

CTV primetime investigative news show W-5 aired a full feature on the pizza pie- in-the-sky titled Taking Your Dough. It also reported Toronto police had been investigating the chain and even the same man with whom Alard struck his deal. That man was Torontonian Reza Solhi. Solhi could not be reached for comment.

According to W-5, there were dozens of cases just like Alard's with similar franchises going back years, all run under different names, including 3 for 1 Pizza, the Pizza One, Pizza Uno and Anthony's Kitchens. Toronto police uncovered a trail that went back a decade.

As Alard watched the piece air, he saw his own experiences flash before his eyes in the stories from a dozen other investors.

As an immigrant, Alard was looking for a business to run when he arrived here from Syria in the spring of 2004. On the hunt for prospects, he spotted a glossy ad about a pizza franchise while leafing through the paper one day.

Pizza One offered prospective franchise buyers an easy recipe for making lots of dough — their choice of prime locations and help with financing — up to $150,000 over and above the buyer's $50,000 price tag.

Alard jumped at it.

"When I first came to this country, I invested all the money I had and my father-in-law did, too, in this franchise," Alard said. He made the big leap, with $36,000 from his father-in-law to make up the $50,000.

Alard says he never opened the franchise because the chain never came through with a location or the rest of the promised financing, a sum of $150,000.

Months of phone calls and letters later, he finally figured out he'd been had — and there was nothing he could do to get his money back.

"After a year, we discovered it was a fraud. There was nothing we could do. They just kept running away."

Like Alard, the other investors featured in the W-5 piece got nothing in return.

"There were about 15 in the group, mostly in Toronto. Some of them paid $150,000 and some of them only paid $10,000," he said, figuring in total, the man behind the franchise chain must have collected a cool million from investors over the years.

"They are largely newcomers," Alard said. He's angry because he believes the franchise law favours chains at the expense of buyers.

Toronto police found out the chain was tangled up in layers of complexity.

"We had victims in four provinces — Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba and Saskatchewan — and I'd received information from 10 people and two in the United States," said lead investigator Detective Fred Kerr with the York Regional Police. "It's quite involved."

He, too, noticed most victims were new immigrants.

Winnipeg police worked with the Toronto police, collecting statements from Alard to build a case against the franchise chain.

This fall, Toronto police turned the case over to federal authorities who build cases to lay criminal charges in complicated fraud schemes and marketplace scams.

The federal Competition Bureau confirmed they are deep into an investigation into the franchise chain.

A bureau spokeswoman said it's policy not to comment on investigations before they are concluded. To date, there are no criminal charges laid against anyone linked to the franchise chain.

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