Many of Vince Mullee’s financial advising clients considered the man a friend, who would discuss their retirement goals at the kitchen table or farmyard.
On Wednesday, the 69-year-old was sentenced to five-and-a-half years in prison for defrauding 24 people of roughly $2 million.
The joint submission from Crown and defence also orders that Mullee repay the money should he ever get income or assets again.
As a licensed financial advisor, Mullee sold fake bonds and used forged documents over a minimum of six-and-a-half years. According to the Crown, he took advantage of his position of trust.
“These investments that were being solicited were fictitious. They did not exist,” Crown prosecutor Darren Howarth told court as he presented the cases facts, which the defence admitted.
Clients had legitimate investments with Mullee initially, but at some point around 2011 or earlier, Howarth began “off-book” transactions. The money was going entirely to the advisor or his incorporated business.
In some cases, the income went toward paying back earlier investors — a hallmark of Ponzi schemes. The rest of the money went to his own personal expenses or keeping his business afloat.
“Essentially, the business itself was losing money,” Howarth explained.
Mullee also presented clients with a marketing brochure, which listed core values including kindness, good manners and looking out for others. It stated: “character is doing the right thing when nobody is looking.”
About three quarters of the identified victims read or submitted victim impact statements during Wednesday’s sentencing hearing. To accommodate so many people, court staff rented out a Saskatoon hotel ballroom.
Recurring themes emerged about people feeling guilt and shame over trusting Mullee. Some lost tens of thousands, others are out hundreds of thousands.
Darlene Saxinger lost $37,000 in the fraud scheme. She was hoping to put it towards her daughter’s future wedding and a retirement property in Arizona.
“I had to start all over again … I’ll never have that money again,”
The single mother had to sell the property and now works two full-time jobs. Her parents were also victims, she said.
Howarth said in another case, Mullee visited a victim’s farm, offering him a 15-per cent return on an investment. The advisor said the client needed to act quickly, as it was a “limited time thing.”
Mullee’s actions continued until June 2018. A client checked on the status of an investment, and learned it didn’t exist.
The subsequent investigation by Saskatchewan RCMP and Saskatoon police included manual analysis of 9,500 transactions.
In 2011, Mullee began operating as an agent under WealthCo Inc., which is based out of Calgary. Mullee and WealthCo Inc. are named as defendants in an ongoing civil suit.
Saxinger told media she is confident the legal action will result in payments from WealthCo.
“How can someone be in an office for six-and-a-half years and WealthCo had no idea what was going on?”
Under the sentence imposed Wednesday, Judge Brent Klause also barred Mullee from managing another person’s money for 25 years after he’s released from prison.