A B.C. Supreme Court judge has committed a Hells Angel motorcycle gang member from Burnaby and his alleged business associate for extradition to the United States to face criminal securities fraud charges.
On Tuesday, Justice Catherine Wedge ruled the U.S. Attorney’s Office has provided sufficient evidence to bring Hells Angel nomad Courtney Vasseur and Curtis Lehner, a former Vancouver stockbroker and salesman at Eron Mortgage Corp., to trial in New York after American officials requested their extradition based on an April 14, 2022 indictment.
Vasseur and Lehner are among several Canadians charged in the U.S. with multiple counts of criminal securities fraud, conspiracy to commit securities fraud, wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering for their part in a set of alleged fraud schemes involving over US$1 billion in illegal trading.
Vasseur and Lehner's network, including fellow Canadian Domenic Calabrigo and Turkish resident Hasan Sario, is alleged to have generated US$35 million in illicit proceeds alone, via a pump-and-dump scheme.
Committal may be appealed and reviewed
The extradition process began with a request from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which was approved by the Department of Justice Canada. The extradition hearing held last fall was only for Wedge to decide if the evidence supports a finding that the alleged conduct would be criminal if it had occurred in Canada — in this case stock market manipulation.
The allegations against Vasseur and Lehner have not been proven in court.
But with Wedge committing the two defendants, the Minister of Justice will now decide if they should be surrendered to the United States to face those allegations before a U.S. judge.
However, Vasseur and Lehner may appeal Wedge’s decision at the B.C. Court of Appeal and should that court still side with the decision, the defendants may apply for a judicial review. Should the review still find the process was just, the defendants may seek leave to appeal those decisions to the Supreme Court of Canada.
Criminal defence lawyers Paul McMurray and Teresa Mitchell-Banks, a former Crown prosecutor and short-lived director of enforcement for the B.C. Securities Commission, argued last November the U.S. authorities had not proven the two committed fraud because they hadn’t proven the two knew stock promotion material to be false.
Ryan Dawodharry, counsel for the Attorney General of Canada, countered the defence, noting “the extradition judge in a committal hearings does not engage in credibility assessments or a determination of ultimate reliability of the evidence.”
Vasseur and Lehner alleged to be part of Vancouver-orchestrated scheme
American officials allege Vasseur and Lehner worked with former Vancouver lawyer and offshore shell company facilitator Fred Sharp, who the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) dubbed the “mastermind” of the alleged scheme. Sharp also faces criminal fraud charges in a separate indictment.
A judge found Sharp liable for securities fraud in a civil case against him brought by the SEC, which had alleged Sharp colluded with multiple networks or “control groups” that took control of and manipulated penny stock companies.
Sharp owes the SEC and investors a combined US$52.9 million but has not faced an extradition order despite recently being indicted by a grand jury. Sharp’s seven B.C. associates in that case were also found liable and face combined monetary orders of US$136.4 million.
Vasseur and Lehner’s indictment alleges the network worked with offshore trading platforms arranged by Sharp to deposit their shares in accounts intended to conceal the true beneficial ownership.
The SEC said Sharp operated an encrypted communications system he called “Q,” using “X phones” while calling himself “Bond.” Everyone Sharp worked with had code names, including Vasseur who was dubbed “Arctic Shark,” according to the criminal indictment.
In January 2023, the SEC revealed, in an amended complaint to the New York court, text communications between Sharp and associate Yvonne “Wires” Gasarch, a Richmond resident, showing concerns about money laundering and keeping their operation concealed.
"On aug 12 u wrote a draft for grand yachts against cash. Cld u pls explain to me how this is legitimate payment? My concern is money laundering: hells angels gives us cash, we give them a draft to buy a boat. Later, boat is seized, polic investigate, find out charterhouse paid for it; visit us and ask why. What will u say?" Sharp tells Gasarch.
"Can we lend money to them? Thomas asks them sign loan agreement for us. Thomas will call me back," Gasarch replied.