5 Canadian lawyers accused of money laundering or suspicious financial transactions

5 Canadian lawyers accused of money laundering or suspicious financial transactions

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It’s rare, but some attorneys have been fined or even disbarred for helping criminals launder cash. elatively few Canadian lawyers have been disbarred or disciplined for their role in money laundering. (Canadian Press)

(This story is a collaboration between the Investigative Journalism Foundation and CTV News.)

Canadian lawyers are playing a key role in helping criminals launder money, according to an intelligence report obtained by CTV News and the Investigative Journalism Foundation.

That 2022 report said the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre found some lawyers connected to international criminal organizations, drug traffickers, illegal gambling rings and people trying to launder their money through real estate and luxury cars.

But few Canadian lawyers have ever been formally accused of money laundering, and even fewer have been disciplined or criminally charged for their actions.

Here are some of the best-known cases of lawyers accused of money laundering or suspicious financial transactions.

Simon Rosenfeld: Toronto lawyer Simon Rosenfeld once described Canada as a “la la land” where money laundering goes unpunished. Unfortunately for Rosenfeld, he was talking to an undercover RCMP officer. That 2002 dinner meeting at a restaurant in Miami would later lead to Rosenfeld’s arrest that same year in a joint RCMP-FBI mission called Operation Bermuda Short. Rosenfeld, who thought he was speaking to a Colombian drug trafficker, was caught claiming that it was “20 times safer” to launder money in Canada than in the United States. He was found guilty of two money laundering counts in 2005. Rosenfeld appealed the decision, but the Ontario Court of Appeal instead increased his sentence from three to five years, writing that “lawyers like the appellant who choose to use their skills and abuse the privileges attached to service in the law not only discredit the vast majority of the profession, but also feed public cynicism of the profession.”

Florence Esther Louie Yen: Vancouver real estate lawyer Florence Yen handled the equivalent of more than $14 million from a single overseas client in just 19 months. But there was a problem: according to the Law Society of B.C., Yen never provided any actual legal services for most of that cash — and never made an effort to learn the source of the money. A 2021 decision from the society’s tribunal found Yen had sent money to bank accounts in Singapore, Luxembourg and Panama on behalf of her client, even after multiple warnings from the Royal Bank of Canada about the suspicious nature of those transactions. The Law Society stopped short of alleging Yen had laundered money. But if money laundering did occur, the society said it “could not have happened without the participation and assistance of [Yen], however inadvertent such assistance may have been.” Yen received a three-month suspension.

Ronald Norman Pelletier: Vancouver lawyer Ronald Pelletier was disbarred last year over what the Law Society of British Columbia described as “a complete abdication of the ethical standards to which lawyers are expected to adhere.” A disciplinary tribunal found Pelletier moved more than $31 million from clients he knew were being investigated for securities fraud in the United States. Pelletier received nearly $900,000 in fees from those clients, even though he provided “no substantive legal services,” according to a November 2023 decision from the tribunal. He also used 20 burner phones over 18 months, the tribunal found, seemingly to cover his tracks. B.C.’s Office of Civil Forfeiture is trying to seize assets in Pelletier’s trust account, arguing they constitute the proceeds of crime.

Abraham Davis: Abraham Davis was a Toronto lawyer who was disbarred last year for what the Law Society of Ontario described as “knowing participation in a money laundering scheme.” The society found that Davis received more than $157,000 in cash from a client for nearly three dozen transactions, which he then used to purchase real estate and kept receipts from those transactions in a special folder labelled with the name of his wife. Davis later presented “falsified financial records” to the society’s forensic auditor, the tribunal said. The society concluded that Davis was “not a dupe but a knowing participant in the scheme.” He was disbarred and ordered to pay costs of more than $57,000.

Michael Bolton: Michael Bolton had a reputation as one of the most respected and longest-serving criminal lawyers in British Columbia. So it was a shock to many last year when the Law Society of British Columbia revealed it had accused Bolton of accepting more than $20 million from clients who were under investigation in the United States.

The Law Society’s discipline committee rescinded that citation on June 25, according to the society’s website. CTV News and the IJF have reached out to the law society and Bolton’s lawyer for comment. The original citation said that American officials believe one of Bolton’s clients may be connected to a “significant transnational criminal organization,” according to the law society’s citation.

Other clients have been criminally indicted in the United States for money laundering, wire fraud and other crimes. The allegations against Bolton have not been proven. Peter Leask, who was representing Bolton, did not respond immediately to a request for comment, but has fiercely denied the allegations against Bolton in statements to other media outlets.

Note: The story has been updated to report the rescinding of the Law Society’s citation.

About Post Author

URBANATVFM

Jorge de Jesús Núñez García es un periodista y escritor dominicano radicado en Toronto, quien se ha destacado en Canadá como locutor, comentarista, animador, tanto en radio como en televisión. Dirige emisoras y medios digitales, además de prensa escrita.
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