In recent posts I’ve reported on a variety of Internet scams involving recreation vehicles sales.
In today’s post a lengthy Edmonton (Alberta) Police Service investigation into a travel trailer theft ring has led to 95 charges against three men, including a notorious Edmonton con man who masterminded one of the largest Internet-based frauds in history.
The three—Kelly Yates, 50, Alyn Waage, 67, and Donald White, 56—are facing 95 charges following the recovery of nearly $1 million worth of stolen high-end travel trailers and recreational equipment involved in a large fraudulent registration scheme.
The charges include trafficking in stolen property, possession of stolen property, and tampering with VIN.
It all began in October 2013 when Edmonton city police began investigating a stolen property file that lead to executing a search warrant at a home on the city’s south side. There, police recovered a stolen Ford F-350 truck, a custom Weld Viper 2 jet boat, a Gateway boat trailer, and other stolen equipment totaling $198,300.
Information gathered from the search sparked the auto theft unit to begin a complex investigation with the RCMP, Saskatoon police, and the Insurance Bureau of Canada, which uncovered a suspected fraudulent registration scheme involving stolen recreational vehicles that extended across Western Canada.
From that investigation, $664,830 worth of stolen property was recovered, including 11 travel trailers, three enclosed trailers, two fifth wheels, one utility trailer, two boat trailers, and one jet boat, ranging in value from $2,500 to $59,000. So far 18 of the 19 trailers have been recovered.
The thefts occurred from a wide range of locations like residential driveways, parking lots, and storage lots in Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia, predominantly outside of Edmonton.
In most cases, the vehicle identification numbers (VIN) were removed and replaced with a fraudulent number, then registered through Service Alberta using counterfeit bills of sale before they were sold through online classified ads.
Det. Alfred Normand with the auto theft unit said about 12 of the 18 stolen trailers had changed hands, half of which went to innocent third party purchasers. The other half went to associates within the group.
The vehicles were sold under false vehicle identification numbers and counterfeit bills of sale through online services such as Kijiji. Vehicles were bought at “close to market value,” police Det. Alfred Normand said. Over the course of the investigation, police say they recovered equipment, including travel trailers, fifth-wheels and utility trailers, that total $863,130 in value.
Eighteen of the trailers were returned to their owners, and one is still missing, he said.
Buyers of the fraudulent equipment have lost their money. Those people can seek restitution through the criminal or civil court system.
Other stolen vehicles may still be on the market.
Waage, a former real estate agent, fled Canada in 1998 after he was charged with 44 counts of mortgage fraud totaling $1.2 million in relation to the sale of 22 condominiums at two Edmonton developments, and another small fraud in Hinton (Alberta).
Authorities have said Waage used the money to finance his next con, a complex pyramid scheme that raked in more than $60 million US from as many as 15,000 investors from 57 countries. At the time, it was believed to be one of the largest frauds yet conducted over the Internet.
Waage created and ran the Tri-West Investment Club between 1999 and 2001, initially operating from a cliffside mansion in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. He admitted to having used the money from the scheme to buy Mexican real estate, fleets of vehicles, a helicopter, and a yacht.
The scheme involved a high-tech version of the classic Ponzi scheme, in which early investors are paid off with money from later investors, not from return on investments. Waage was arrested in Puerto Vallarta in 2001 and was sentenced in 2005 in California to 10 years in prison after he admitted he planned and conducted the scheme.
Other Canadians and Americans were also indicted for their roles, including Waage’s son. Brenda Martin, a Canadian woman employed by Waage at his estate in Mexico, gained international attention after she was held by Mexican authorities for two years for knowingly accepting money from the fraud run by her former boss.
Normand said to always ask for identification from the seller of a vehicle to avoid being defrauded and to check the VIN — usually on a label inside driver or passenger door — to make sure it hasn’t been scratched out and that it matches the public VIN.
Where there are sales, there are scam artists.