Professionally seasoned: the snake oil salesman who keeps finding new victims

In February 2016, a Toronto man named Joseph Ritter was found guilty of siphoning money from more than a dozen investors to invest in gold and diamonds and spending it at a Las Vegas casino.

The money was deposited into the companies of hundreds of Ritter’s unsuspecting relatives and friends. The accused, who sought psychical “connections”, earned credit for parking fees, buffet checks and even a check for $5,000 he deposited into a cookie jar.

You would think a conviction for fraud, forgery and forgery of business documents, and, at the least, a hit on someone’s jewelry, would be enough to have him bounced from the public eye, at least in Canada. Instead, the 51-year-old Ritter continued to rack up new victims and spent more than $750,000 on a new SUV and his daughters’ tuition, according to the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada (Fintrac). A Fintrac undercover officer, posing as a car dealer, had Ritter try on a $75,000 vehicle. When the officer turned on the lights, the self-proclaimed business genius casually said: “OK, I have experience with buying a product – that would be like buying or importing diamonds.”

But then the neighbourhood pizzeria Ritter frequented suddenly closed. Two months later, in August 2016, investors learned they had lost $1.9m in savings and retirement accounts.

Ritter’s greed appeared limitless. It took four more weeks before he tried to put at least $100,000 back into the victims’ accounts, fuming at one of them that he should have lost everything himself.

Michael Hurley, the founder of Ritter’s brokerage company, told the court Ritter took the gamble he couldn’t afford to lose.

“He believed he was on to something and has a hard time accepting that he is no longer on to something,” Hurley told the court. “He says that he wishes he could go back in time and do things differently, but he believes he knows better now.”

“I had to believe it all to be true and I said, that’s impossible – he can’t say that.”

But the 63-year-old was convicted of at least 30 fraud-related charges in a Toronto court and ordered to pay $250,000 in fines.

“Ritter has wiped out life savings of a who’s who of Ontario’s wealthiest families,” Ontario’s attorney general, Yasir Naqvi, said in a press release on Monday. “And when these victims went to court to seek their recovery, Ritter fought them tooth and nail and stole their trust and led them to believe he would turn their lives around. That’s why we forced him into the criminal justice system.”

He added: “When you steal people’s life savings and you flee to Nevada and New York, it’s just not business as usual.”

Since his conviction, a couple of people have stepped forward with allegations of fraud, Fintrac spokesman Pravin Rao told the Guardian.

Ritter was placed on the province’s “psychic nexus” list, which he now has to report to Fintrac. Rao says that number is constantly fluctuating and is prompted by suspicious financial activity or irregular business dealings.

“The information will be shared with law enforcement [and will help] police to identify [other] known or suspected infrastructures of frauds and crimes that fall within the hypnotic nexus list,” Rao said.

You may recall the profusion of fake psychic offices, high-end massage parlours and psychic “service” clubs that sprang up across Canada in recent years. It’s not uncommon for elderly people, many of whom live on very fixed incomes, to fall prey to such scams. Not all were financial scams, but both sides can put false profiles online that consumers of all ages can easily fall for.

In many cases, those who reach out to telemarketers and business mailers often find themselves in a position where they’re required to provide financial information.

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