Oates guilty of swindling fellow teacher

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  • Cedric Oates (Photo by Mark Tatem)

    Cedric Oates (Photo by Mark Tatem)

A school guidance counsellor was yesterday convicted of using false statements to convince a teacher to invest her life savings into a real estate scheme.

A Supreme Court jury found Cedric Oates guilty of making statements he knew to be false or misleading to induce Dianne Laird to invest $345,000 over a three-month period in 2009.

Ms Laird told the court Oates convinced her to invest her life savings into the scheme, promising she would have her initial investment returned within a matter of months.

She hasn’t yet seen a single penny of her investment returned.

Oates, a 42-year-old US citizen, declined to take the stand during the trial.

He told officers in a 2010 interview that he warned Ms Laird he couldn’t guarantee when her investment would be returned but that he still intended to do so.

However he agreed the entire matter could have been avoided if he’d presented the Canadian physical education teacher with paperwork about the deal.

The court heard that Ms Laird and Oates became friends in 2008 while she was training for the women’s national basketball team in Bermuda.

She was the team captain; he was an assistant coach.

Oates repeatedly told her about a friend, Michael Hopkins, who was making good money in the real estate market in Tacoma, Washington. After learning that she had saved around $350,000 to build her dream home in Canada, he pressured her into investing in the scheme.

He promised that her investment would be used to purchase and repair foreclosed homes, and that her entire investment would be returned in three to four months. He also assured her that they would create a limited liability company, which he claimed would protect her investment.

Ms Laird wired $25,000 into Oates’ Bank of America account in June 2009. She travelled to Tacoma a month later, and then invested a further $100,000.

She was contacted by Oates while on vacation in Scotland that August. He told her that Mr Hopkins won a bid for a $350,000 development referred to as the 48th Street project. She eventually agreed to invest another $220,000, but was told Mr Hopkins had decided against the project.

Ms Laird said she repeatedly asked Oates for a promissory note and other documentation but never received anything.

A limited liability company was created however Ms Laird’s name was omitted from the paperwork. Oates and Mr Hopkins insisted her Canadian nationality would make matters more difficult.

Forensic accountant Todd Boyd said that the first $125,000 invested by Ms Laird didn’t appear to go towards the purchase of property; the bulk was spent by Mr Hopkins on construction-related expenses.

The accountant said that it appeared some of the final $220,000 was used to purchase property however it seemed most of that was also used for construction expenses.

More than $100,000 of the investment money was never transferred to Mr Hopkins’ account.

Much of the money that remained in the account appeared to be used to purchase property, smaller payments were made to Upper Crust, Arnolds Market and Tony’s Hair Studio, the accountant added.

Prosecutor Nicole Smith described Oates as a manipulative predator. She said he never gave Ms Laird paperwork because he never intended to repay her.

Defence lawyer Charles Richardson insisted Ms Laird knew she was taking a risk by investing in the US housing market.

“I would venture to guess that even someone of average intelligence from somewhere as distant as Australia knew about the mortgage crisis,” he told the jury. “She well knew the risks before she went into this.

“When Dianne Laird tried to persuade you that she didn’t know the risks involved and she never would have done it without Cedric Oates’ assurances, she was lying.”

Mr Richardson also refuted claims by Ms Laird that she had insisted on getting paperwork before sending the money, noting that she in fact did send the money without getting anything on paper.

“Why would she give up the money if she was so determined to get documents, without getting documents? She wasn’t insisting on documents,” Mr Richardson said.

He said prosecutors had bent over backwards to make his client, an innocent schoolteacher and family man with a clean record, appear nefarious.

“[Oates and Mr Hopkins] did exactly what they said they were going to do. They just didn’t get the returns they wanted,” Mr Richardson said, adding that while their actions could amount to a breach of contract, they did not amount to a criminal act.

He denied that Oates splurged on the funds and said that if his client had truly intended not to carry out his promises, he could have fled Bermuda with the cash rather than sending it on to Mr Hopkins to invest.

Acting Justice Charlene Scott remanded Oates into custody and ordered that a social inquiry report be carried out. The matter is expected to return to Supreme Court in December.

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Published Oct 27, 2012 at 8:00 am (Updated Oct 26, 2012 at 10:29 pm)

Oates guilty of swindling fellow teacher

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