Andre Curtis jailed for 15 months
Businessman Andre Curtis has been jailed for 15 months for running an unlicensed investment company, in which clients lost thousands of dollars.
Supreme Court heard a US businessman committed suicide after failing to recoup funds placed with Curtis's company, while it was being run in contravention of investment regulations.
A Bermuda policewoman also lost out, leaving her unable to afford Christmas presents for her family [see separate story].
Puisne Judge Carlisle Greaves was told yesterday that Illinois businessman John Sheaffer got most of the $1 million invested with Curtis returned, after a court order.
He later took his own life.
The judge also heard Curtis owes $12,000 to Pc Connie Saltus. He ordered him to pay it back to her within six months or face further jail time.
Curtis, 48, has held an array of jobs in the past, including working as campaign manager for former Premier Ewart Brown until early last year.
He was the subject of a parallel investigation in the US for his role in a worldwide Ponzi scheme, which saw investors conned out of a total of $4 million.
This newspaper reported last month how he was fined $335,000 and ordered to pay back huge sums of cash by the Montana Commissioner of Securities and Insurance in relation to that case.
However, speaking in relation to the Bermuda case during sentencing yesterday, defence lawyer Charles Richardson said Curtis is not a thief and there was “no deception” on his part.
He stressed that he always intended to return the funds to investors.
Yet after hearing details of how Curtis breached the Investment Business Act through false claims he was licensed by the Bermuda Monetary Authority, the judge said: “The act of Mr Curtis in operating this company without a licence must be considered a serious one, especially when regard is paid to the manner in which he operated it, and the consequences thereof.
“There's no evidence that he was qualified to do so or experienced in doing so and it is difficult to imagine an innocent reason for his operation. “His actions struck at the heart of the economy of this nation.”
Detailing the case, prosecutor Cindy Clarke said the business in question, Harvest Investment Holdings, advertised itself on its website as offering a range of financial services. It also stated it was fully licensed as being authorised to provide services within the laws of Bermuda.
In fact, the company was not licensed by the Bermuda Monetary Authority as it should have been by law.
Ms Clarke explained Mr Sheaffer invested $960,765 in November 2008 after receiving a recommendation to speak to Andre Curtis and researching Harvest via its website.
Prior to the investment, she said: “Sheaffer spoke to the defendant, who explained to him that he was well placed within the Bermuda Government and that he was acquainted with investments, particularly Treasury Strip Investments.”
Curtis also persuaded Pc Saltus to invest $12,000 in the company in August 2008.
According to Mr. Richardson, the pair were once in a relationship. In December 2008, Police, who had been alerted by the Bermuda Monetary Authority, raided Curtis's Warwick home and his business addresses. They seized thousands of documents and arrested him for operating an unauthorised investment business.
Curtis pleaded guilty on October 18, the morning his trial was due to begin, to carrying on an investment business without a licence. Ms Clarke said: “John Albert Sheaffer was able to recoup some of the monies given to the defendant through the courts by way of a restraint order. However, Ms Connie Saltus has not received any of the outstanding $12,000.”
Another prosecutor in the case, Larissa Burgess, said of Mr Sheaffer: “He has in fact committed suicide.”
Curtis has convictions for what Ms Clarke described as “dishonesty offences” dating from 1984 and 1988, for which he was fined.
She read a victim impact statement from the Bermuda Monetary Authority, saying Curtis's actions risked Bermuda's reputation as an international financial centre.
Mr Richardson insisted Curtis is not a thief or guilty of deceit. “This is a regulatory offence, he hasn't ripped anybody off,” he said. “If he was trying to con people, why would he have a website up there for the world to see?”
Mr Richardson told the court Curtis was advised by a previous lawyer that he did not need a licence, and he did not know he was breaking the law.
He added that Curtis accepts he owes the money to Pc Saltus and is willing to pay her back.
Invited to address the court, Curtis said: “I know I didn't go to break the law and, you know, I'm truly sorry that it's gone the way it's gone and, you know, I'm sorry for anyone that's been hurt in the process.”
Curtis is currently awaiting trial after pleading not guilty to stealing an unspecified sum of cash from Government and falsifying the accounts of the faith-based tourism budget and Harvest Investment Holdings; and stealing cash from a man named Andrew Smith.