by Neil Sharma
Rather than enjoy her retirement, Margaret Chisholm is worried about where she’ll be living in a year when her mortgage is up for renewal.
The 73-year-old is one of 14,000 Fortress Real Developments’ syndicated mortgage investors, and after ill-fatedly investing $345,000 in five Fortress projects, her husband stepped in to pay overdue income tax payments that her $1,000 monthly Canada Pension Plan income simply cannot cover.
“We bought a condo and now, unfortunately, my partner is going through cancer treatments and cannot quit work because he doesn’t want to lose the condo,” said Chisholm. “We might still lose it anyway because we’re up for renewal next year.”
Chisholm was convinced to make the investments by a Fortress Real “mortgage agent” named Monty Altintutar, who isn’t licensed with the Financial Services Commission of Ontario. When reached by phone, Altintutar refused to answer questions and abruptly hung up when asked how he sold mortgage products without a licence.
Altintutar is now listed as an advisor with Cabincoin, a cryptocurrency firm. His biography on the Cabincoin website says he “tutors clients in the field of financial literacy and has leveraged his vast financial knowledge to transition into the new cryptocurrency world. He is also a licensed mortgage agent specializing in private lending and real estate investing.”
Chisholm did receive a $25,000 return on an early investment through Fortress Real, however, convinced the investment was secure she reinvested it in Colliers, a Barrie-based project that has since gone under.
For his part, Altintutar kept reassuring Chisholm that her investment was secure. Eventually that turned into, “Margaret, I can’t do anything to help you and I don’t work for them anymore.”
“He dropped me like a hot potato and said that I can’t do anything,” said Chisholm. “Now I’ve found out everything: [Fortress Real] took 35% of our money off the top.”
Like Chisholm, Bonnie Emms is 73 years old, but while the $100,000 she invested is considerably less than Chisholm’s investment, there won’t be a retirement anytime soon. She met her financial advisor, John Evelyn, through her boss and he advised investing her money in Colliers.
“I spent a lot of time with him and trusted him, and I did a lot of my own research into the project before I put my money in,” said Emms. “I’m one of the first investors and things were going along quite fine; I was getting my interest payments every month and then the builder went bankrupt about a year and a half into it.”
Fortress Real has been accused of going after unsophisticated investors—whether or not they did intentionally is a question only its directors Jawad Rathore and Vince Petrozza can answer—a theory which sounds apt to Emms.
“I wasn’t meant to be in this type of deal because I don’t understand what’s going on,” she said.
It’s clear that suitability assessments were flouted if not conducted haphazardly.
Only after joining a Facebook group for Victims of Syndicated Mortgage Investments did Chisholm realize the severity of Fortress Real’s alleged fraud. She also holds the Financial Services Commission of Ontario responsible for the ruinous losses endured by thousands of investors.
“FSCO definitely failed to protect me because they knew about the two owners [Petrozza and Rathore were censured by the Mutual Dealers Association of Canada, with the latter receiving a lifetime ban], they were charged but they still allowed them to do real estate investments,” said Chisholm. “Even if I don’t get my money, I want to see these guys in jail.”