Canadian police search Fortress office in mortgage fraud probe: sources

FILE PHOTO: Vince Petrozza, chief operating officer (COO) of Fortress Real Developments, leaves the company offices in Richmond Hill, Ontario, Canada November 21, 2017. REUTERS/Chris Helgren/File Photo

TORONTO (Reuters) - Canada’s federal police searched the office of real estate firm Fortress Real Developments on Friday as part of an investigation into mortgage fraud, two sources with direct knowledge of the investigation told Reuters.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police confirmed it had searched offices but declined to name the company involved.

“We can confirm that the RCMP Integrated Market Enforcement Team carried out six search warrants in the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) relating to an investigation into syndicated mortgage fraud,” Royal Canadian Mounted Police Sergeant Penny Herman said by phone.

If the RCMP presses charges, it would disclose the nature of the charges and the identities of those involved, she added. “As this is an ongoing investigation no further details will be provided.”

A Fortress spokeswoman and company founders Jawad Rathore and Vince Petrozza did not respond to requests for comment.

Syndicated mortgage investments, which pool private lenders’ funds for real estate development, became popular in Canada after the 2007-09 financial crisis, as investors looked for ways to make better returns from their savings with interest rates close to record lows. However, lax regulation of the products led to thousands of pensioners and small investors putting their life savings at risk.

More than 20,000 retail investors have put as much as C$1.5 billion ($1.2 billion) into syndicated mortgages, mostly in Ontario, according to regulatory sources.

Ontario’s financial regulator in February revoked the license of mortgage brokerage Building Development and Mortgages Canada Inc (BDMC) following an investigation into the sale of syndicated mortgage investments to fund Fortress projects. Fortress co-founder Vince Petrozza also had his license revoked.

In a special report in November, Reuters revealed that the Canadian province’s regulator had been investigating brokers raising funds for projects associated with Fortress since 2011 but had failed to take action despite repeated warnings that the marketing of the risky investments broke provincial laws. Reuters exclusively revealed that Canada’s federal police had investigated the business.

Reporting by Matt Scuffham; Editing by David Gregorio and Richard Chang