Canadian whom Edward Snowden called out for past involvement in a multi-million dollar scheme says he's 'worked hard to move on'
TORONTO -- After whistleblower Edward Snowden called him out for his previous involvement in a multi-million dollar scheme, a Toronto-based investor and public speaker who’s run into trouble with securities regulators says he's been open about his mistakes and has "worked hard to move on."
Sunil Tulsiani, a former police officer who now calls himself a "wealth-making guru," is the founder of the Private Investment Club (PIC). It's a club that currently holds conferences and networking events about investing and entrepreneurship and calls itself the "largest elite real estate investment club in North America."
During his appearance as a guest at a PIC conference held over Zoom on April 24, Snowden turned the tables on Tulsiani.
"It's very unusual that you booked me for this conference because, you know, as a whistleblower, it's my obligation I think personally and professionally to ask, is this you?" Snowden said, before showing a screenshot of a 2017 online news article about Tulsiani and what securities regulators called a multi-million dollar scheme.
"I think that makes me very uncomfortable and everyone involved with this should really question, 'Is this the kind of association that they want to have?'"
Snowden encouraged attendees to "look up what you're getting involved in" and consider getting a credit card chargeback for what they spent on the conference. While one-day admission to the conference was free, participants could pay up to $297 for the highest-tier ticket. Membership to the Private Investment Club also costs $2,000, although membership wasn't required to attend.
"By God, think hard about if you want to continue this, because for me, ladies and gentlemen, for tonight, I don't. Thank you, so much and good night," said Snowden, before disconnecting from the conference.
Tulsiani confirmed that the article Snowden showed was indeed about him, before calling for a five-minute break.
"This is totally unexpected and I'm so sorry that this has happened," he told attendees.
The Ontario Securities Commission (OSC) put out a warning about Tulsiani's past conduct on April 26, stating that they were "aware of events being hosted by Mr. Tulsiani’s Private Investment Club."
In 2012, the OSC Tribunal ruled that Tulsiani and several other investors had engaged in "egregious and dishonest" behaviour after using "high-pressure sales tactics" to sell risky bonds to "vulnerable investors, many of whom clearly did not understand the purported investments."
According to OSC filings, the bonds were sold to investors, purportedly in connection with a hotel-condo project on the Caribbean island of Curacao, but funds were instead directed to pay interest to existing bondholders as well as other unrelated expenses. A total of $4,475,000 in bonds were sold to more than 80 investors.
As a result, Tulsiani and his company Tulsiani Investments were issued a fine of $81,800 and a $200,000 administration penalty, as well as a ban on trading securities and holding director positions in Ontario.
According to the filing, Tulsiani submitted that he felt “responsible” and that he “never intended anybody to get hurt, and – those members or investors were friends."
After returning from a break at the conference, Tulsiani addressed the controversy. He told attendees that the Curaçao project fell apart because it had occurred at the height of the real estate crash of 2008 and that he also lost money on that investment.
The OSC's ruling states that he and his company obtained $70,000 in commissions for the bond sales, although Tulsiani alleged that he never took any of the $4 million sum for himself when speaking to participants. He said he was forced to give up the commissions.
"The way the money was raised, it was seen as a security and that is a big mistake that I did. I did not hire a securities lawyer. I should have hired a securities lawyer to raise the money and especially at that massive level," Tusliani said.
The Manitoba Securities Commission and the Autorite des marches financiers, which is the securities regulator in Quebec, also issued trading bans against Tulsiani after the OSC's ruling.
In 2015, Tulsiani was also charged quasi-criminally for unregistered trading and breaching the OSC's cease trade order.
He pleaded guilty to those charges in June 2017. He was sentenced to two years probation and 200 hours of community service in addition to a $208,295.97 restitution order. Quasi-criminal offences are non-criminal offences that have similar penalties to criminal charges but are subject to simpler court procedures.
In a statement posted online and provided to CTVNews.ca, Tulsiani said the conference had more than 800 attendees and "received positive and constructive feedback."
"While Mr. Snowden chose to cut short his engagement, we are proud of the event we organized and appreciate the many other presenters, attendees and our team that made this event possible," said Tulsiani.
In a second statement emailed to CTVNews.ca on Tuesday, Tulsiani acknowledged that his past issues with the OSC "puts me under increased scrutiny and I have always been open about the mistakes I have made in the past."
"While serious mistakes were made, I have taken responsibility for them and worked hard to move on," he said.
Tulsiani said the PIC is involved in organizing seminars and networking events as well as selling books.
"It's unfortunate that (the securities commissions) in Ontario and Manitoba continue to proactively target me and my company almost a decade later, knowing that PIC does not solicit investments, trade in securities or pool any money together," Tulsiani continued.