Updated: Aug 19
For me, producing and directing a film exposing the dark world of white-collar crime has always been high on my to-do list. That’s why, when the story behind Fortress was presented to me in 2020, I was anxious to learn more.
By Bryan Bakker
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I conducted a series of interviews and realized quickly the horror of those who allege they were conned, and the shamelessness of the perpetrators who allegedly conned them. It was heartbreaking. They had lost their entire life savings and hit walls in every arena - legally, politically, and in the news media. Now, with charges finally laid, it's time to release some of what we've been working on. Starting with a trailer that sets the tenor of the feature documentary to come. Thank you for your interest.
BACKGROUND LINK: Globe And Mail Stories Leading To Arrests.
Capitalisms Fortress, follows the stories of victims and whistleblowers, fighting to get justice for losses, on a colossal scale, which took place between 2011 to 2018. Their stories highlight the human damage created by “regulatory gaps” (outlined by the Ontario Auditor General and later an Ontario government panel) in FSCO (Financial Services Commission of Ontario), the OSC (Ontario Securities Commission) and the LSC (Law Society of Ontario). Was it regulatory gaps or was it a cover-up, which allowed 14,000 Canadian investors to lose an estimated $912 million dollars to inflated, hyper complex and slickly marketed syndicated mortgage investments (SMIs)? Investors, many of whom lost their entire life savings, claim they were defrauded through obfuscation and deception by a cabal of crooked mortgage brokers, lawyers, and businesspeople. A whistleblower inside FSCO discusses watching fraud in real-time but being hamstrung by intimidation inside and outside the regulator. In 2018 Fortress Real Developments Inc. was raided by the RCMP, putting an end to years of alleged greed, deception, and dirty tricks. In June, 2022 the two men running it were finally charged.
Capitalism is a powerful engine for prosperity, but like any engine, it needs to be monitored and regulated to make sure it runs sustainably. Since capitalism is the economic system in which we live and democracy is the political system in which we decide, the only way to monitor and maintain that engine is to spotlight its excesses so that everyone can see and feel the pain for themselves. This series aims to do that.
I grew up in a regular working-class family. My father was a farm manager and my mom an ECG Technician at our local hospital. We did not have a lot of money, but we made do. I finished high school and worked in a series of different industries through my twenties and thirties; from farm hand, to construction labourer, to factory worker to grocery clerk.
Throughout that time, I learned how the system is designed. Local neighbourhood crime, like theft, is handled harshly as it should be. It is painful and traumatizing for its victims. Above a certain socio-economic tier however the rules change. Why is it that a person who robs a bank and steals a few thousand dollars can easily end up in jail for a decade or two while someone who robs millions from retirees can be let off with a fine and get to go home to enjoy a measure of their ill-gotten gains?
This series, more than anything, is about exploring that disparity; the rules for the .01% and the rules for the rest of us; the Capitalisms that divide us.
In book three of Sextus Julius Frontinus’ “Stratagems” when Domitius Calvinus was besieging the fortress of Lueria he marched his troops around the walls day after day to deceive its defenders into thinking this was only a reoccurring drill or troop exercises. Then one day he called the attack and overcome Lueria’s stunned defenses. The good people who have been fighting this fight against Fortress Real Developments Inc., have been marching for a good long while now. Capitalisms: Fortress, is all about getting over those walls.
SNEAK PEAK: Two stories from the documentary.
Krista Zingel (Whistleblower)
A banker’s daughter, Krista grew up in communities across Ontario; their family following her dad as he was sent in to help clean up local bank frauds. As a child she remembers being bullied by other kids, and teachers, as payback for her dad connecting dots and getting locals arrested for scams. Krista came to her calling, as a tough as nails whistleblower, honestly.
After working for a bank through her twenties, doing the same kind of work her father did, she eventually went into private practice as a mortgage broker. She was always good with numbers, and people, and made a great living for many years. Inspired by the misconduct and harm she witnessed in the market she decided she wanted to give back while gaining more experience in the regulatory space. She applied for a job as a compliance officer at the Financial Securities Commission of Ontario (FSCO) in 2014. When hired, even though she was taking a substantial pay cut, she was elated.
Immediately, upon starting her new position, she noticed a huge volume of syndicated mortgage investment complaints coming across her desk. She then realized that these had been coming in for years, but inexplicably, had all been closed without findings, despite evidence and clear breaches of law. When she tried to move these files up the chain, they were stopped dead in their tracks by her supervisor. The more she pushed the more extreme the pushback became. She was given grim warnings by coworkers, assigned complex files in other languages, and set-up to be disciplined repeatedly for simply doing her job. Ever her father’s daughter however, she didn't give up.
She managed to get the superintendent’s attention and was scheduled to present her findings to him at a special meeting. The meeting, however, was moved repeatedly to a time when she was off. Eventually, to the chagrin of her supervisor, and during her vacation, she crashed her own meeting and presented her findings. The meeting went great and the superintendent left saying he would soon be recommending next steps to protect Ontarians. Krista never heard from him again.
He ignored her emails. He ignored her calls.
After eighteen months of fighting a losing fight, she resigned in 2015 and was subsequently forced into a nasty grievance dispute with FSCO lawyers. Her union lawyer, a kindred spirit to Krista, tough as nails and thorough, presented a stellar case and it was going her way. Until the day her lawyer was pulled into a side meeting with FSCO’s lawyers. It was a meeting that changed her lawyer’s demeanor dramatically.
Now pale and shaking she returned and said to Krista: “You have to drop this. This is bigger than you think.”
In 2016, after such a long slog, that had been devastating to Krista’s family life and her mental health, she was ready to end it and move on. She agreed to the terms of their settlement offer but only on the condition they drop the requirement for her to sign an NDA.
Now Krista is ready to tell her story through this documentary project. Like all of us she hopes to learn why her efforts to save thousands of Ontarians' life savings were sabotaged within the regulator.
Ben Rabidoux (Whistleblower)
Ben Rabidoux is owner and director of North Cove Advisors Inc. where he works as a financial analyst. In 2014 he began hearing about Fortress Real Developments Inc. soliciting people in his orbit to sell their syndicated mortgage investment products.
Immediately he noticed red flags with their pitch but discounted it as just another sad ploy. Not until his brother approached him for his advice about a Fortress SMI investment deal, offered to him by his own financial advisor, did Ben grasp the scope of the pitch.
With years of experience and training behind him, Ben quickly understood that these investment deals did not make sense. First, they said the principle of the investment was 100% safe and that investors were guaranteed an 8% rate of return. This was unheard of in the current low interest rate environment, not to mention, though SMIs are legitimate investment
vehicles, they are known, within the industry, as high risk - high reward, investments. Ben also knew the people selling these investments were being offered a 10% commission payable upon each sale. The clear moral hazard and impossible math, drove Ben to share what he knew on social media.
Almost immediately Ben got a knock on his door.
It was an officer of the court hand delivering a letter from a renowned law firm in Toronto, warning Ben, if he did not retract his post and make an apology immediately, he would be sued for defamation. After long conversations with friends and family he decided it was not worth the risk. He complied and shared what he knew with FSCO and put the whole episode behind him.
Ben monitored the pace and intensity of Fortress’ rise with growing trepidation. He knew that people were being set up to lose everything and FSCO did not seem to be doing anything about it. So, despite the risks, he began posting again and receiving threatening letters again. After the third time, he had had enough. He decided to ignore the letters and was subsequently sued for defamation. He lawyered up and assembled his case.
A new “anti-slap” law had recently passed in Ontario’s parliament. This allowed him to file a motion claiming the lawsuit was meant to prevent him from making the public aware of the applicant’s egregious behavior. He and his lawyer were successful in getting this motion heard, drawing the primary mastermind behind Fortress, Jawad Rathore, into the courtroom.
In a dramatic twist, Ben’s lawyer found an old sworn statement by Jawad that contradicted what Rathore’s lawyers were telling the court. They used this to argue Jawad’s propensity for telling lies and, after weeks of high stakes anxiety, the court sided with Ben. The judge threw out the defamation lawsuit and awarded Ben his legal costs, berating Jawad, and his “suspicious” business model. Because of how Jawad structures his finances however, the legal costs incurred by Ben were impossible to retrieve and to this day Ben is out over $150,000.
$150, 000 to protect Ontarians - to do the regulators job for them.
Through Ben’s court filings and research, we have the paper trail we need to show how these SMI alleged scams worked, where the money went and how they were sold to unknowing investors. Ben has endured much more over the course of his journey, including death threats, but he is driven to see justice done.
More to come...