|Scam artist pastor’s followers get minor payback after being bilked of more than $8.2-million |
Adrian Humphreys, National Post
Monday, Jun. 18, 2012
The expansive home of pastor Marlon Gary Hibbert stood out from neighbouring suburban new builds because of two stone lions ensconced at the foot of the driveway.
The noble beasts were likely chosen for their biblical imagery but the more worldly character of the lion as an apex predator, voracious in its hunger, now seems more appropriate to his many victims who once respected him as a man of faith promising them riches as well as salvation.
Mr. Hibbert was the pastor and founder of Dominion World Outreach Ministries in Toronto and a founder of Fight For Justice, an organization devoted to bettering the lives of the African-Canadian community.
Despite his religious and social workload — and having no training or license from any securities regulator — he spent an inordinate amount of time handling other people’s money.
Benefitting from the blanket of trust his positions draped over him, Mr. Hibbert bilked investors out of more than $8.2-million.
On Thursday, his victims won a moral victory through a judge’s order that Mr. Hibbert pay his victims almost $100,000 in legal fees, their cost in bringing a civil suit against him that prompted an Ontario Superior Court judge to declare him a liar, fraudster and cheat.
Mr. Hibbert was ordered last month to pay back the invested money — as well as the 5% per month in interest he had guaranteed investors when raking in their cash.
“Greed is a vice that makes normally rational people act irrationally,” Justice Harrison Arrell declared in one of his two rulings in the case. “It plays exceeding well into the old maxim ‘If it looks too good to be true it usually is.’ This case proves that both theories are alive and well.”
Former clients wept during testimony at the Ontario court and at the Ontario Securities Commission as they spoke of their hardship from losing their savings.
One woman invested to provide security for her children, one who is blind and autistic and the second merely blind. Another woman lost her house, moved into a rental apartment with her three children and took on a second job to pay her bills.
A victim was a fellow pastor with a religious prison ministry; he was satisfied with the promises he heard because Mr. Hibbert was a “man of God,” he testified. Another victim was an assistant pastor in Mr. Hibbert’s church.
From 2006 to 2008, people funnelled millions of dollars to him for investment. They heard by word of mouth that he had an investing scheme, through members of the church or through Mr. Hibbert’s relatives, who were among his victims.
It was easy pickings for the pastor.
Victims came to him, pleading to take part.
One of two stone lion statues is seen outside of pastor Marlon Gary Hibbert's former Markham, Ontario, home on Sunday, June 17, 2012. Last week Hibbert was ordered to pay the legal fees of his victims in a financial scam. Matthew Sherwood for National Post
The investment Mr. Hibbert touted involved foreign currency exchanges. He guaranteed a 5% return per month return or 8½% per month if the funds were locked in for one year. Mr. Hibbert then signed a contract promising he “personally would guarantee the principal amount and the interest payment,” court documents say.
The victims said they believed their money was safe because Mr. Hibbert was a pastor, a notion Judge Arrell referred to as “stupidity.”
By 2009, the interest payments stopped and Mr. Hibbert became hard to reach. Demands for refunds piled up. It became clear the investments were lost.
“No evidence was produced by him to indicate that any investments were even made, never mind whether they ever made a profit,” Justice Arrell said in his ruling.
Mr. Hibbert used much of the money for his own use, for his wife, to lease expensive cars and make donations to charities he was closely tied to and, in some cases, paid by.
“As a result of his actions the plaintiffs lost all they invested with him,” Judge Arrell said.
According to the Ontario Securities Commission, the total loss by more than 200 investors was $8.2-million in principle and more than $13-million in promised interest.
“The defendant testified that he was simply a bad bookkeeper and businessman; that he had sloppy business and accounting practices; and that he was the victim of worldwide financial markets gone awry. I disagree,” wrote Judge Arrell.
It is uncertain, however, when and how the victims might recoup their losses: One of the few assets Mr. Hibbert had — the fancy house guarded by stone lions — was secretly sold during the hearing.
While Judge Arrell had earlier concluded that Mr. Hibbert’s wife, Verna, was not part of the swindle, he was dismayed she sold the house in the midst of the court battle.
“It is significant to this court that it learned after the trial that during it she listed and sold the home in question,” wrote Judge Arrell in Thursday’s ruling. “Such conduct is outrageous and worthy of sanction. The fraudulent conveyance was a significant and important part of this litigation as the only remaining asset of the defendants would appear to be this house.”
Because of it, Mrs. Hibbert was ordered responsible for paying 25% of the legal fees spent on chasing her husband down.