A Saskatchewan man accused of creating a fraudulent Humboldt Broncos GoFundMe page said he intended to help those affected by the tragedy by giving thousands of dollars to a woman who showed up at his door.
Andrij Olesiuk, also known as Jay Max Olesiuk, is accused of committing fraud, possessing property obtained by crime and laundering proceeds of crime after he created a crowdfunding page called “#PrayForHumboldt.”
The 33-year-old took the stand in his own defence Wednesday. He recalled hearing about the crash at around 6:30 a.m. on April 7, 2018. Sixteen people on the Broncos bus died and 13 others were injured.
“I was absolutely devastated that it had happened,” Olesiuk said on the only day of testimony at Saskatoon provincial court.
A different GoFundMe page went on to raise $15.1 million. Olesiuk’s campaign was far less lucrative — raising just under $3,800. Almost $3,700 was direct deposited into Olesiuk’s bank account.
“My intention was to raise funds for the families affected by the bus crash.”
Olesiuk said on April 24 a woman came to his Martensville, Sask., doorstep seeking donations for a Humboldt Broncos charitable event. He said he told the woman about his fundraising campaign and decided to give the money to her.
Olesiuk testified to going into a safe at his home, taking out $4,100 cash and handing it to her. He said he couldn’t remember the woman’s name or organization.
“She looked really legit with the name tag and everything,” he said.
By his account, the woman then gave him a piece of paper stating the money would go to the main Broncos GoFundMe fundraiser and all donors would get a receipt.
After the alleged visit, Olesiuk said he closed his GoFundMe campaign.
He never saw the woman again, court heard. He said he didn’t know if money from his fundraiser ever made it to Broncos families or survivors.
Olesiuk said he got the receipt in his mailbox within two days, but couldn’t present it in court because it was lost in a house fire in February 2019.
“There was nothing ever to be recovered … we searched top and bottom,” Olesiuk said.
Under cross-examination, Crown prosecutor Darren Howarth asked why the accused had $4,100 readily available in a safe. Olesiuk said he operates “cash businesses” including self-employment as a graphic designer and website builder. He also buys and sells cars on Kijiji.
During 2017, Olesiuk said his primary income was through employment insurance, but also said he wasn’t having money troubles in 2018.
The Crown’s lone witness during the trial was Cpl. Craig Hall of the RCMP’s general investigations section in Saskatoon. Police received the file from the province’s Financial and Consumer Affairs Authority.
Hall said before the GoFundMe deposits began, Olesiuk had a bank balance of just over $340. The funds were deposited in four installments of various amounts.
By July 3, the account had a balance of 23 cents, court heard.
Police arrested Olesiuk on Nov. 20, 2018. Officers carried out a search warrant at his Wakaw home, seizing electronic devices and various documents.
Closing arguments are scheduled for Thursday. Judge Brent Klause said he is expected to reserve his decision for a later date.