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Former personal trainer defrauded North Van clients of $157K

Trainer’s heavy lifting involved lightening bank accounts with fake investment schemes
A former personal trainer lightened the wallets of two North Vancouver clients to the tune of $157,000.| aywan88/Getty Images

A former personal trainer who defrauded two of his North Vancouver clients out of $157,000 by taking their money for a fake investment scheme has been sentenced to an 18-month conditional sentence order.

Zachariah Han Nichols, 40, of Vancouver, will serve his sentence under electronic monitoring in the community.

Nichols was sentenced after pleading guilty in North Vancouver provincial court to defrauding two women, who were both personal training clients and personal friends, more than ten years ago.

At the time, Nichols was operating a personal training business Fitness on the Go, when he became a trainer to the first woman. The two became friendly, and the woman confided to Nichols she was concerned about a family member’s debt, Crown counsel Louisa Winn told the court.

Soon after, Nichols told the woman he could help if she was willing to invest in a shell company called Broken Ground. He promised the woman she’d receive a 50 per cent return on her investment within three to six months after he sold the company. The woman took out a loan against her house on a line of credit, which she used to write several cheques to Nichols, court heard. Later, Nichols convinced the woman to invest more money in a second purported investment company. The woman eventually gave Nichols more than $66,000, said Winn. But when the woman discovered that one of her cancelled cheques had been cashed by Nichols’ girlfriend, rather than any investment company, the woman became suspicious and confronted him. She later went to the police.

The second client had known Nichols for several years before he became her personal trainer. He was also the woman’s friend.

As in the first case, Nichols approached the woman with a plan that she become his business partner in an investment plan, guaranteeing her a $30,000 return if she invested $100,000, said the prosecutor.

The woman even went as far as having a partnership agreement with Nichols drawn up and notarized, said Winn.

Between 2011 and 2012, she provided Nichols with cheques through her line of credit.

Eventually he stopped making interest payments on the line of credit and told the woman he was broke and suicidal. In the hopes she could help him get back on his feet and manage to repay her, the woman invested still more money in Nichols’ fake investment schemes, with the amount eventually reaching more than $91,000.

The woman never reported the fraud to police because she was too embarrassed, said the prosecutor. That fraud was uncovered by the RCMP when they were investigating Nichols’ first fraud and noticed cheques from the woman showing up in his bank accounts.

In total, Nichols defrauded the two women of more than $157,800.

There was never an investment scheme. Instead, Nichols spent all the money on himself, including money to buy drugs, said the prosecutor.

In agreeing to a conditional sentence rather than time in real jail, however, Judge Rose Raven said it was necessary to consider Nichols’ history of mental illness and the impact going to jail could have on his recovery.

The judge noted Nichols comes from a family with a history of addictions and mental illness and was physically and emotionally abused as a child. Nichols has struggled with substance abuse throughout his life, including addictions to alcohol, cocaine, opioids and heroin and has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. In the past year, however, Nichols has been to a rehab program and has been making progress, court heard.

Nichols has accepted responsibility for his actions and agreed to a restitution order to eventually pay back his victims, the judge noted. Nichols must continue to attend treatment for his mental health and addiction issues.

Nichols will also be put on probation for 12 months.

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