John Thomson  

Local Lawyer Acquitted

From Stockwatch comes this story of interest involving people from the valley and a Texas court with some serious charges.

A Texas jury has acquitted former Kelowna lawyer Bruce Allard Paige, the lawyer for ailing B.C. stock promoter Robert Stanley Zaba, of theft. Meanwhile Mr. Zaba, who was the lead defendant, is in an undisclosed B.C. nursing home after suffering an aneurysm in a Texas jail.

Houston Police arrested Mr. Zaba, Mr. Paige and a third associate, Patrick Hood, in August, 2004, for a variation of a Nigerian advance fee scheme. According to prosecutors, Mr. Zaba told retired Houston lawyer Michael Pullara he had millions in overseas bank accounts, but he needed $80,000 to spring it free. In return for a short-term $80,000 loan, Mr. Zaba allegedly offered to repay $500,000, a generous return. (All figures are in U.S. dollars.)

It seems Mr. Pullara was more interested in having Mr. Zaba arrested than lending him money, however. After setting up a meeting to arrange the loan, Mr. Pullara invited a receiving party that included the Houston Police, the FBI and the Secret Service.

Once Mr. Zaba signed a loan contract, police quickly appeared to arrest Mr. Zaba, Mr. Paige and Mr. Hood. Mr. Zaba was found incompetent to stand trial and shipped home after his aneurysm, leaving Mr. Paige, the Kelowna lawyer, and Mr. Hood, a Houston resident, to stand trial.

In the two-week trial, Mr. Paige's lawyer, Norm Silverman, successfully argued Mr. Paige was just there to inspect the contract between Mr. Zaba and Mr. Pullara. Mr. Paige was not a party to the dubious deal. After eight hours of deliberations, a Texas jury agreed, and acquitted Mr. Paige of theft.

Mr. Paige did not testify in his own defense. Testifying for the prosecution was Mr. Pullara and Houston Police Sgt. Joel Gorski.

After the acquittal, prosecutors quickly dropped the case against Mr. Hood, the Houston resident who introduced Mr. Zaba to Mr. Pullara. The end result -- all three accused went home free men.

Mr. Zaba may be fortunate he did not go to trial. "The DA could not have lost [against Zaba] ... it was a done deal," says Paul Mewis, lawyer for co-accused Mr. Hood.

Although the Houston ordeal is now behind Mr. Zaba, he could be at the end of his career. The aneurysm, which was the second for the 50-year-old promoter, apparently left him with reading and mobility problems.

Mr. Zaba's poor health has also got him out of civil fraud charges from the Pay Pop Inc. promotion. In that case, the SEC says Mr. Zaba pumped the stock to $1.78 using a purported Dominican Republic resort and a leased phone line operation in Vancouver. Prosecutors dropped the case against Mr. Zaba last month, citing his health.

Not as fortunate were the other Pay Pop accused, CIBC Mellon Trust, CIBC transfer agent Alnoor Jiwan and Mission resident Daryl Desjardins. The SEC won a $5.3-million penalty against Mr. Desjardins, a $6-million penalty against CIBC Mellon Trust and a $130,374 fine against Mr. Jiwan for the pump-and-dump.

According to the SEC, Mr. Zaba and Mr. Desjardins used Pay Pop as a "printing press" for money, bribing CIBC transfer agent Mr. Jiwan to issue millions of unrestricted shares.

The SEC was less understanding of Mr. Zaba's health problems last summer. Right after Mr. Zaba had his second aneurysm, the SEC sought and won a $2.6-million default judgment against him for the LASV Enterprises pump-and-dump. The SEC says he pumped LASV from 43 cents to $3.03 using a purported New York airline deal, among other things.

Robert Fine was on a mission to Europe this month along with some other players from the Central Okanagan seeking professional people who would like to work here. David Webb of Best HR Solutions, Kelly White of Re/Max and Ron Houtstra with partner Bert ter Horst of ReloCan were a part of the working group.

What was the reason for the trip?

"We went there to recruit workers and it was interesting in the presentations made at the Real Estate Development conference last week and this is the theme of business today, people to fill jobs, all kinds of jobs, and what wasn’t discussed or covered off but there were comments on how we have to turn the young people towards new careers, is that our fertility rates are the second lowest in Canada in British Columbia, we’re older here. So we won’t be able to fill these jobs by simply training and encouraging these young people in more trades. We need bodies here."

Is it safe to say they are not coming in the numbers we require right now, today?

"For a variety of reasons no but when you go out to the marketplace and tell them of the opportunities, we were quite frankly overrun with people to talk to. In Holland for example, in Utrecht, the first day of the show, and it opens at 10am, there were three of us working this booth, and at one time I turned around and asked what time it was because I had forgotten to wear my watch. And the time was 2:45pm. Which means from 10am to then I had not lifted my head up from giving out information and talking to the people interested in our message. There was always someone in front to talk to. We actually were late in putting our presentation on the next day because we couldn’t get away from our booth. There were just that many people. Canada, New Zealand and Australia seemed to be the hot spots in the world where skilled workers want to go. They are making decisions based primarily on
lifestyle, lifestyle, lifestyle. The European experience as we were told in the UK and in Holland, is that for people it is too crowded here. There is no open space, there is a lack of servility, and because there is no open space people are always thinking of number one, and not their community and their neighbors. Traffic is out of control beyond belief. You know we talk about our traffic issue, but it is pretty common to hear stories where literally a six kilometer drive takes up to 45 minutes."

Were you surprised at the Real Estate Development Conference about the big German contingent that is looking at the Okanagan?

"No, absolutely not, that’s interesting as they talked about who was coming to the Okanagan. If you look at the province it’s Asians and Europeans and here in the valley its German, UK and Toronto and Alberta those are all consistent markets for. The European opportunity for us and obviously why we focus on Holland and the UK is that language skills are not an issue. Germany is our other target and we will be doing something in the fall. The cost of housing is not an issue, and again at the conference one of the challenges that came up was the reformability issue and that in order to recruit workers for here and that they don’t have sticker shock, you need to find real estate markets that are comparable or higher in value. So when Ron Mattiussi put up that chart of real estate values across Canada that shows us as number four, and Victoria, Vancouver and Toronto those are the real estate markets that people don’t notice anything horribly different with the pricing is that the housing in Europe is the same way. The average house price in the UK vs. here, the dollar figures may not be that much different but what you get as part of that average is different. Instead of getting 1200 square feet and a lot the size of a postage stamp you are getting a single family home, 2400 square feet with many amenities and that is what makes the valley so appealing. So that is why we kind of looked at those markets."

This is one big piece of land Canada. How do you get people to focus on the Okanagan?

"You’re right it is a big country and getting people to focus on parts of Canada, because it is a vast country, the UK example for instance you’ve got 60 million people and the physical geography you can fit the UK on Vancouver Island. We are talking about one province let alone a country. So there is some confusion about that. There are always the questions: you’re from Canada so it must be cold there. People are surprised as soon as you mention the wine industry, they immediately say well you can’t grow good wine unless you have a pretty moderate climate, so that changes their focus very quickly. The other issue is jobs, we have got a lot of industry that are seeking the right people and have been challenged by skills and in order to get workers here quickly from foreign countries there is this provincial nominee program where the employer has to nominate the candidate and that is also something we are going to work on and we are going to do a seminar in June, on basically how to hire a foreign worker."

How difficult is it for an employer?

"Well it is not that difficult. I met a gentleman who is moving to Kelowna in May and he has a job with a construction company. The challenge that we are currently trying to deal with is the licensing aspect of the process. If you were to go to Alberta there are a number of professions that you would not have to be re-licensed to work in Canada. In British Columbia you pretty much have to be licensed in every single profession there is, including a carpenter if you can imagine. We need some change there or if there not going to make those changes then can we have the people write exams in their home country, so that can at least get that out of the way before they come and they will actually come to British Columbia and hopefully the Okanagan. But if I have a choice of coming to Alberta or BC and I am thinking about the two, I quickly realize that I can come to Alberta and not rewrite an exam for my profession. I have been working as a carpenter for twenty-two years and I have to write an exam, what move would I make. So those are some of the issues facing Okanagan business today with foreign workers. That is why we are focusing on the countries I mentioned because there is a strong history of trade development. Germany for instance, in grade ten you make a decision to take a trade path or an academic path. Something we might want to look at in this province."

What is the good news received from all these presentations?

"The real good news is that we have forty or fifty leads we are still working with, already, medical professionals, aviation engineers, trades galore, a lot of really qualified tech workers. Very impressive people. The nice thing is they want to come here."

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