Scams and shams — August 2014

News on the scammers who didn’t get away with it, including repeat convict-turned-pastor Barry Minkow, a BC accountant who defrauded Simon Fraser University and a Pennsylvania woman who has been accepting social security benefits paid to her dead mother for more than thirty years.


“Reformed” con man became predator from the pulpit

Repeat convict-turned-pastor Barry Minkow, the 1980s "whiz kid" who swindled investors out of US$100 million in one of the largest accounting frauds in history, has been sentenced again — this time for stealing more than US$3 million from his church.

In 1989, Minkow was sentenced to 25 years in prison when his publicly traded carpet cleaning company, ZZZZ Best, turned out to be a massive Ponzi scheme. He served just seven years, during which he embraced the Christian ministry.

In 1997, Minkow became pastor at the San Diego Community Bible Church and later founded a fraud detection firm — a redemption story so grand it featured on TV’s 60 Minutes in 2006. Three years later, however, Minkow was back in jail for securities fraud. He was already in custody for that crime when he pled guilty to the latest charges, adding five more years to his sentence.

A film about Minkow’s life starring Mark Hamill, James Caan and Ving Rhames is scheduled for release in October.


SFU exec stole $800K

A British Columbia accountant has been sentenced to five years in jail for defrauding two former employers, including Simon Fraser University. While working as financial director at the university’s faculty of science, Siamak Saidi submitted more than 500 fraudulent invoices totalling more than $800,000 for companies he directed, using the funds to buy three properties. A new manager discovered the crimes after Saidi lost his job in a 2012 restructuring. By that time, Saidi had been hired as manager of financial services for the Cultus Lake Park Board in Chilliwack, BC, where he continued his fraudulent behaviour. A subsequent external audit at the board found he diverted a $10,000 HST refund into a trust account he controlled.


Cash kept coming for woman’s dead mother

A 71-year-old Pennsylvania woman has been charged for accepting more than US$500,000 in social security benefits paid to her dead mother over the past 30 years. Susan Stock neglected to notify the Social Security Administration of her mother’s death in 1983 and the payments continued to be deposited into a bank account that she controlled. The fraud was discovered last year when an inspector tried to arrange an interview with the deceased.


Fake death foiled

A Toronto couple’s brazen scam has landed them in jail for five years. Alireza Shojaei, 45, purchased $3.5 million in life insurance coverage from Great-West Life, London Life, State Farm and Desjardins Financial between 2006 and 2008, naming his wife, Koukab, 41, as beneficiary. The pair then travelled to Iran in August 2008 and staged his death. While the insurers balked at the lack of proper documentation, the "widow" sued and received a $1.2-million settlement. But the Shojaeis weren’t very skilled at covering their tracks. In September 2010, Alireza used his Canadian passport to enter the US, and later that year Koukab bought a US$420,000 home near Los Angeles, where Alireza was eventually found, alive and well.