Multiple fraud charges against two individuals and four companies in relation to a Canmore area timeshare operation have been halted by the Crown.
The four companies ran the timeshare operation at different times, offering access to Chateau Canmore Resort and the Banff Gate Mountain Lodge and Spa in Harvie Heights.
Chateau World Vacations Inc. and its director Kim Schram of Edmonton, and Properties International Ltd., Royal Crown Resorts Ltd., and Royal Club Resorts Inc. and their director André Muran were facing 192 charges.
Last week, however, prosecutors stayed the charges, which justice department spokesperson Josh Stewart said is different than having them withdrawn.
“We directed a stay of proceedings on the charges and prosecution,” he said. “They can resurrect the charges for up to one year if there is significant new evidence that comes forward.”
The charges have no relation to the current operations at either Chateau Canmore or Banff Gate.
The reason for the stay of prosecution, Stewart added, is that the Crown’s special prosecution team reviewed the investigation by Service Alberta that led to the charges and “made a determination there was not a reasonable likelihood of conviction.”
However, he said he could not elaborate on what evidence is needed to give a better likelihood of a conviction.
“I know there is civil litigation that is going on as well and we don’t want to put any of that in jeopardy,” Stewart said. “If there is evidence people have, they should come forward and contact Service Alberta.”
Of the 192 charges, 168 are criminal code counts of fraud over $5,000 and 24 Fair Trading Act charges of misleading or deceiving consumers, misrepresenting a consumer’s rights, remedies or obligations and using exaggeration, innuendo or ambiguity of material fact in a consumer transaction.
At the time the charges were laid, officials said they represented 59 consumers and losses totaling more than $1 million. The province has received close to 700 complaints over the years and the corporations between July 1994 and July 2008 had signed 8,600 contracts with a value between $60 million and $80 million.
La Velle Goodwin has been fighting against the companies and its officers since 2002, when she was a victim of the scheme.
She started up a website called Cheatauworld.ca and has been an outspoken advocate for the thousands of victims before and throughout the court process.
Goodwin said the news the charges have been stayed came as a complete shock because she was under the impression the case against Muran, Schram and the four companies was strong.
“I was anticipating a trial date was going to be set,” she said. “It is crazy that this has happened and it makes no sense.”
The victims she has been in contact with since last week’s announcement are also in disbelief, she said, and are feeling like justice is not being served.
Goodwin said many, after realizing they would never see their money returned to them, were holding onto the hope that the legal system and the consequences of criminal charges would go forward.
“They started clinging to this hope that at least they were going to see the perpetrators suffer some consequences,” Goodwin said. “This has really upset people.
“When it comes to prosecuting fraud against consumers, it seems for the most part, it doesn’t happen.”
When it comes to the fact the charges could be resurrected within the next year with new evidence, Goodwin was not very optimistic, especially because the Crown has refused to tell victims what specific evidence is needed to make the charges stick.
“Saying that is an appeasement gesture, I think, to make people less upset with them,” she said.
Under a previous name, Royal Club Resorts, the company and Muran were charged in 2004 with 125 charges in relation to failing to provide timely refunds to customers who cancelled their contracts.
In 2007, a plea agreement was reached with the Crown and Muran was ordered to repay $221,000 in refunds and contract cancellations to 29 consumers.
RCR also received $16,500 in fines after pleading guilty.