Extreme measures in the quest for justice
Published Saturday, February 19, 2011 6:55PM EST
Nick Djokich seemed to be a model citizen and a pillar of his Calgary community.
The father of two was by all accounts a loving family man and a good friend and neighbour. Furthermore, he was devoutly religious.
When a new priest arrived at his church, Djokich was the first to befriend him. And when his parish wanted to build the largest Serbian Orthodox Church in Western Canada, Djokich offered to pay the costs.
Djokich was also a savvy businessman who had made millions. In 1998 he invested $6 million in a company called GSF Limited. GSF was run by two Quebec residents, Jean-Pierre Tremblay and Stephane Hardy, along with Bahamian lawyer, Arnold A. Forbes.
The contract Djokich signed with GSF stated that he would make as much as 20 per cent interest per year and that his principal funds were guaranteed. Djokich planned to use some of that money to pay for the construction of the new church. In addition, other members of the Serbian community had invested in GSF as well.
When it came time to start paying for some of the new church expenses, Djokich went to cash out his investment. But during a 2004 meeting, to his great surprise he was told that the money was gone. GSF company directors claimed they had invested the money in another venture, and had lost it all.
Djokich wasn't buying GSF's version of what happened to his money. He suspected that he had been scammed. Over the next year he put together an extensive paper trail to figure out what happened to his $6 million. After a year of tracking the funds, he concluded that he and members of his community, for whom he felt responsible, had been defrauded.
Djokich decided to refer the matter to the authorities and took his complaint to the RCMP fraud squad in Calgary. After months of sitting on the file, the Calgary RCMP eventually referred Djokich to the Quebec Provincial Police, because two of GSF's directors were based in the Montreal area.
The QPP in turn referred Djokich to the Autorite des Marches Financiers, the Quebec Securities Commission, saying that this fell under their jurisdiction. The AMF has had Djokich's complaint for over four years. They claim to still be investigating but in a matter of months they will pass the statute of limitations for being able to press charges.
Nick Djokich had hit a brick wall. Although he had attempted to resolve the matter through the proper authorities, for years nothing was done about his complaint. Djokich's family says that he got frustrated, and felt hopeless. He also got angry.
"He just couldn't believe it," says Nick's son, Steven Djokich. "Anyone could probably feel the same way, just numb, absolutely numb."
Djokich went off the edge. He came up with a desperate plan to recover his missing millions, a plan that involved kidnappings and murder.
On two separate occasions Djokich kidnapped, but later released, people he suspected took the money. His first victim was Calgary businessman Willy Lenz. Djokich kidnapped and tortured Lenz over a 48-hour period in hopes of extorting money from him.
His second victim was GSF director Stephane Hardy, who was also kidnapped and roughed up. Neither was able to produce any money.
Eventually, Djokich's desperation grew to the point he even plotted revenge on a Canadian lawyer living in the Bahamas, Richard DeVries, who himself had been misled by Lenz. DeVries had acted for Lenz and Djokich was erroneously convinced that DeVries had swindled him out of his millions.
Djokich needed someone to travel to the Bahamas to kidnap DeVries and extort money from him. Djokich eventually met up with an American who he hoped would take the job. Over a couple of meetings in the United States, Djokich and the potential kidnapper discussed how the DeVries grab would go down, and how they would extract money from him. There was also talk of killing DeVries.
Problem is that the man Djokich was conspiring with turned out to be an undercover federal agent working for the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE). The ICE agent was secretly recording their meetings and once they had enough evidence on Djokich, they arrested him. A trial followed and Djokich was ultimately found guilty of conspiracy to commit kidnapping and murder for hire.
In October 2010, Djokich was sentenced to 20 years in a U.S. federal prison. With time off for good behaviour he will likely be behind bars until 2025, at which time he will be 75 years old.
Despite the convictions, Djokich's family refuses to believe that he was capable of committing those crimes. In fact, they maintain the real victim in all of this is Djokich himself. Not only are they convinced he was defrauded of his fortune, but also that he was abandoned by Canadian authorities who failed to properly investigate what GSF did with the money.
Liberal MP Dan McTeague is sympathetic to the Djokich family's perspective. Although he makes it clear that he doesn't condone vigilantism, he wonders if Canadian police had done their jobs, would Djokich have gone so far off the rails.
"The outcome was not acceptable, but one can understand how someone has pushed those kinds of limits," says McTeague.