White-collar criminals really do have more fun.

Charles DeBono, 65, is one of Canada’s largest fraudsters, convicted in 2022 of running a Ponzi scheme that cheated more than 500 investors out of more than $27 million. With three-years credit for pre-trial custody, the Barrie man was sentenced to serve a further four years in prison.

After just a year, though, he was out on day parole. And that release has been extended for another six months as DeBono lives in a halfway house and continues to struggle to get a bank account and find a job.

Not surprisingly, that’s been tough.

“Your greed and desire for personal gain and status overruled your ethical decision making and empathy for the victims resulting in financial hardship for the victims,” the parole board noted.

On file is a 475-page victim impact statement from 400 of the approximately 515 victims detailing the devastating impact of his scheme.

“Your actions caused a significant loss of savings, depression, anxiety, shame, self-hatred, guilt, suicidal ideation, self-destructive behaviour, marital depression, marital issues, physical health issues, ruined credit scores and financial problems. As a result of your actions, the victims’ lives will never be the same again.”

Meanwhile, the millions he defrauded from them are believed to be safely offshore in the Caribbean.

In January 2013, DeBono created Debit Direct, a “proudly Canadian” investment opportunity that supposedly provided debit terminals to busy small businesses.

After seeing his pitch at trade shows and on investor websites, more than 500 people across Canada, as well as from outside of the country, invested between $40 million and $48 million in the venture — each sinking $2,500-$3,100 per debit machine with promises of making 15 cents per transaction.

But it was all a fabricated house of cards.

Investors didn’t know DeBono had purchased only 10 of the terminals or that their monthly cheques came from money paid to DeBono by newer investors.

“In total,” the recent parole decision says, “victim losses were estimated to range from approximately $24 million to $42 million.”

As the cash poured in, he bought two townhouses in Richmond Hill and $273,000 worth of high-end vehicles, ATVs, motorcycles and Sea-Doos.

An estimated $12 million of his ill-gotten gains was moved to the Dominican Republic, where the fraudster bought a hotel, several homes and more than a dozen condominium apartments. He also got married to a local woman in 2015.

He was living the high life at their expense — and then it all finally imploded.

“After Canadian banks became suspicious of your activity, you fled to the Dominican Republic with the remainder of your assets and stopped maintaining the Ponzi scheme in September 2017. You were deported back to Canada in September 2020, and were arrested upon return,” the parole board wrote.

DeBono pleaded guilty in 2022 to fraud over $5,000 and money laundering. In sentencing him, Superior Court Justice Michelle Fuerst also imposed a $26,910,772 restitution order.

If he’s “unable or unwilling” to repay the order within five years of his release from custody, the board wrote, he faces going back to prison for another seven years.

Meanwhile, life isn’t too hard — he has a roof over his head thanks to taxpayers, he visits his son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren almost weekly. While his wife lives in the Dominican Republic, they’ve had frequent phone contact and she even came to visit last November.

The unemployed DeBono doesn’t make enough to support himself in his own place — old age security won’t cut it and he’s not allowed to run his own business and “you do not have any family or friends in the community who are willing to assist you,” the parole board wrote.

So he’ll remain at the halfway house for now.

“It is the Board’s opinion that you will not present an undue risk to society if released on day parole and that your release will contribute to the protection of society by facilitating your reintegration into society as a law-abiding citizen,” the board concluded.

Meanwhile, will those he cheated ever see a cent of what he stole? If you believe that, we have a bridge in the Dominican we’d love to sell you.

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