Lawsuits mount against Don Antle's Chilliwack debt counselling firm
By David Baines, Vancouver Sun columnist
Chilliwack's Don Antle refers to himself as "chief success officer" at his credit counselling firm, which is now doing business as Options Debt Consolidation Canada, but there are a few people who might scoff at that appellation.
From 2010 to 2012, Antle sold at least 15 operating licences in two of his debt counselling companies, Options Credit Canada Ltd. and Options Credit Services Canada Ltd. The price ranged from $10,000 to $25,000, but was usually $15,000.
Options Credit is in the debt-pooling business. It offers to help people who are struggling with debt by negotiating with creditors and consolidating monthly payments into a single lump sum, which the company takes into trust and disburses to the various creditors. Clients are charged a fee for the service, which is split between the firm and the licensee.
The licensees, for the most part, believe that Antle sold them a bill of goods. They complain that he made many promises but failed to deliver, leaving them with essentially worthless businesses.
Four have filed lawsuits. The most comprehensive claim was filed by Stan Kuss against Antle and Options Credit Canada Ltd. in Kelowna in January this year. Among other things, Kuss accuses Antle of "fraudulent and misleading business practices."
In his claim, Kuss says he paid $15,000 plus $1,800 HST for a licence in November 2011: "It was clearly stated by the company that there was no selling involved and that pre-qualified clients would be referred to me by Options Credit Canada Ltd."
The reality, he alleges, was quite different: "Over the course of the first four months after becoming a licensee, I received a total of 19 referrals compared to the 30 or 40 referrals per month that I was led to believe I could expect.
"In addition, the quality of the referrals that I did receive was very poor. Most people I contacted advised me they had never expressed interest in the company's services at all or that they had done a cursory search on a website several months previously.
"Other referrals I contacted advised me they had already been contacted by someone at the company and had decided against using the services of the company or had been already advised by a representative of the company that they did not qualify for the service. Numerous people I contacted were quite hostile about being contacted as they felt I was harassing them."
Kuss said Antle and other company reps told him he could expect $50,000 in income during the first year and up to $300,000 over a three or four-year period, but once again, the reality was quite different.
"I have never generated any business revenue as a result of my licence agreement with Options Credit Canada Ltd.," he states in his claim.
He said the licence agreement gave him the right to a full refund after one year if he wasn't satisfied with the results. He said he asked for his money back in May 2012, and Antle agreed to repay him, but has failed to do so and has not responded to further demands for payment.
In his reply, Antle claims that Kuss "was provided with real-time leads and the ongoing support and management necessary to qualify prospective clients and to generate revenue for his business." However, he said Kuss spent a lot of time in Arizona and California and was not in a position to run a B.C.-based business.
With respect to the buyback guarantee, Antle said it is contingent on the licensee making his "best efforts" to develop the business, which Kuss failed to do.
Antle said he tried to find a replacement licensee, but since Kuss hadn't developed the business, it couldn't be re-sold.
The case is still before the court.
Richard Goosen of Richmond filed a similar lawsuit against Options Credit Services Canada Ltd. in Chilliwack small claims court in June 2011.
Goosen claimed that in November 2010, after answering an ad on Craigslist, he met with Antle and his wife, Karen.
He said Antle promised to provide training, website support, customer leads and all the necessary government permits. (Companies and individuals who sell debt-pooling services must be licensed by Consumer Protection B.C.) He said Antle told him he could expect $75,000 in revenues in the first year.
He said he immediately paid $15,000 plus HST and agreed to pay another $10,000 within two years. However, after three months, he had received only "meagre" training and support and only 12 leads, of which only one was a "live" lead. He demanded his money back.
Antle denied the allegations and counterclaimed for the $10,000 balance, but he failed to appear at the court hearing. The judge decided in Goosen's favour, but he was unable to collect. In a payment hearing in August 2012, Antle claimed the company was insolvent.
In December 2011, Steve Stevic of Vancouver filed a claim in Chilliwack small claims court against Options Credit Canada Services Ltd.
He alleged that, just two months earlier, he had paid the company $15,000 plus HST for a licence, but the company failed to provide proper training or secure a licence from Consumer Protection B.C.
He further alleged that, after he talked with CPBC, Antle terminated his licence with no compensation. (The licence agreements contain a clause prohibiting licensees from contacting CPBC "for any reason" without the company's prior consent.)
When the case went to court, Antle sent a lawyer who offered to pay back all Stevic's money plus court expenses. Stevic accepted, but never received a cent. He is still trying to collect.
The most recent licensee to sue is Dave Piercey of Calgary. He filed a similar lawsuit in Chilliwack small claims court against Antle and Options Credit Services Canada Ltd. on April 3.
In his statement of claim, he said he answered a Kijiji ad offering the opportunity to earn $56,000 to $60,000 per year. He said Antle promised to provide enough good quality leads to achieve that level of income.
He said he paid $15,000 for a licence in April 2012, but Antle failed to provide the promised leads and so he asked for his money back. He said Antle agreed to repay him in 12 monthly instalments starting in March of this year, but he has failed to make any payments. Antle has not yet filed a reply.
Other licensees have not filed claims, but are considering banding together to file a lawsuit as joint plaintiffs. One of those licensees is Rohn Heaslip of Victoria, who said he paid $15,000 plus HST for a licence in May 2012.
"Antle claims he has this great program, that he'll train you and generate all the leads for you. And when that doesn't happens, there's a period of excuses and delays, and when you finally dig your heels in, you get the total cold shoulder," Heaslip said in an interview this week.
He said he made 30 calls to Antle over a two-week period to try to get his money back, "but he just avoided me."
Chilliwack debt consolidator's bio doesn't tell the whole story
Don Antle doesn't mention his personal bankruptcy, or cease-and-desist issued by financial regulators
By David Baines, Vancouver Sun columnist
In my Saturday column, I reported that Don Antle of Chilliwack had sold at least 15 licences for his consumer debt consolidation businesses, Options Credit Services Canada Ltd.
Most of the purchasers paid $15,000 plus $1,800 HST for their licences and are not happy with what they got for their money.
They claim that Antle promised to send them customer leads and provide other types of support, including arranging the necessary government permits, but failed to do.
Four have filed lawsuits. Others are thinking about banding together to file a joint lawsuit. Others don't see any point, as collection appears futile.
Meanwhile, Antle is continuing to solicit investments. In an April 4 email to a prospective investor, he portrayed his debt consolidation business as a profitable and dynamic enterprise, with the potential to manage $100 million within the next five years.
"If you do not have a minimum of $25,000 to put in comfortably with a further commitment based on the above this opportunity probably isn't for you," he wrote.
So who is Don Antle? In his April 4 email, he states:
"My background is senior corporate having been a VP at Molson's national marketing office in Toronto. I ran Canada's largest private agency in this sector for several years and served on the board of directors of CAICCA (Canadian Association of Independent Credit Counselling Agencies). I found my way into and developed a great passion for this industry as a senior executive with a small business turnaround team. I have started and operated several successful small business enterprises of my own."
This picture of success does not quite square with some of the things I have discovered. For example, in 1999 he filed for personal bankruptcy, declaring $216,009 in total liabilities against only $800 in assets. He was discharged the following year. (At the time he was 44 years old. He is now 58.) I find his insolvency ironic for someone who claims to be an expert on debt management.
In February 2001 â€” just 10 months after he was discharged from bankruptcy â€” he was caught in a very awkward situation.
Two undercover police officers arrested him after he left a Richmond warehouse that he had leased for the previous two or three years. Inside the warehouse, they found nearly 2,700 marijuana plants and inside his pockets, they found a rolled-up wad of $20s, $50s and $100s. He was charged with cultivating a narcotic and possession of a controlled substance for the purpose of trafficking.
At trial, Antle said he had sublet the warehouse to a person named William Alexander Stewart. He said he went to the warehouse to inquire about an unpaid BC Hydro bill and "just about had a heart attack" when he saw the marijuana plants inside, according to a report in the Richmond Review.
Asked why he hadn't become suspicious when the hydro bill rocketed from an average of $200 to $400 per month to more than $1,300 after Stewart moved in, he said he wasn't sure how much electricity the sort of shop that Stewart said he was running would consume.
Asked to explain why he had $3,000 cash at the time of his arrest, he said he had collected some money from an Internet-based business he was running and some employment directories he was selling and hadn't had time to deposit the money in the bank.
At that point, the trial took an unexpected turn. Antle's lawyer called Stewart to the stand who â€” after getting assurance that he would be protected under the Canada Evidence Act (which meant his evidence couldn't be used against him) â€” told court it was his grow operation and he never told Antle anything about it.
That corroborated Antle's story. Although the judge said he was reluctant to do so, he dismissed the case.
In November 2003, Antle got into more trouble. Investigators at the B.C. Financial Institutions Commission saw a newspaper ad for an investment in a "private bank" that promised excellent returns on a minimum investment of $10,000, fully secured.
A FICOM investigator posed as a prospective investor and determined that the offer was being made by First Capital Trading & Finance Corp., whose directors included Antle and a person named Hal McLeod.
The investigator met with Antle and McLeod in their Abbotsford office. Antle explained that First Capital had a subsidiary called First Capital Credit Corp. that sold "prepaid major credit and debit cards to individuals who do not qualify for credit from financial institutions."
Antle said the firm had a contract with MasterCard. Customers could deposit money "in trust" with First Capital, then they would get a MasterCard enabling them to make withdrawals up to the deposit amount.
FICOM said the investigator checked with MasterCard, which denied it had any contract with First Capital.
The investigator also interviewed two people who said they applied for cards and deposited money with McLeod, but didn't receive any cards and were unable to get their money back.
FICOM noted that neither First Capital Trading nor First Capital Credit was authorized to carry on trust business in B.C. and issued a cease-and-desist order against both.
McLeod went on to achieve a significant level of notoriety. In August 2009, the B.C. Securities Commission permanently banned him from the B.C. securities market and fined him $8 million after finding that he masterminded a massive Ponzi scheme called Manna Humanitarian Foundation. He hasn't paid a cent of the fine.
In March 2012, McLeod â€” who by this time had changed his name to Michael Carter Smith â€” was arrested for allegedly breaching his ban by promoting an investment scheme in Surrey and with uttering forged documents. The case is pending.
Antle's boast that he "ran Canada's largest private agency in this sector (the debt consolidation business) for several years" appears to be an exaggeration.
The agency is NCC Financial Corp., for which Antle worked as vice-president of sales and marketing, reporting to the chief executive officer.
According to court records, he had a three-year contract with the company, starting in March 2006 and ending in February 2009. However, in March 2008 â€” nearly a year before the contract was due to expire â€” the company unilaterally terminated it. Antle sued NCC for breaching the contract and won, but it's clear that, for whatever reason, the company didn't want him around any more.
His claim that he served as a director of the Canadian Association of Independent Credit Counselling Agencies, an industry lobby group for debt-pooling companies, is also an exaggeration.
According to CAICCA president Margaret Johnson, Antle attended two board meetings as a representative of NCC. He was never a director and not even a member, although he claimed on his website that he was.
She said that in 2011 and 2012, the association's lawyer sent letters warning him not to associate himself with CAICCA or it would take legal action.
Advised that Antle is continuing to cast himself as a former director, she sighed: "Don Antle does whatever he wants to do."
Debt consolidation firm remains licensed despite legal and financial problems
Complaints, lawsuits and unsatisfied judgments against Don Antle and his firm, Options Credit Services Canada Ltd., are piling up, but they're still in business
By David Baines, Vancouver Sun columnist
Don Antle, president of Options Credit Canada Ltd. and Options Credit Services Canada Ltd., is ostensibly in the business of helping consumers manage their debts, but his principal occupation appears to be fishing for investors.
Antle and Options Credit Services are licensed as debt poolers by Consumer Protection B.C. (CPBC), which operates as the provincial government's consumer watchdog.
Debt poolers offer to negotiate with creditors and consolidate monthly payments into a single lump sum, then disburse the funds to creditors. Clients are charged a fee for the service.
Antle, a 58-year-old Chilliwack resident, has sold at least 15 licences for his consumer debt consolidation business, most for $15,000 each plus tax.
The licensees are not happy. They claim Antle promised to send them customer leads and provide other types of support, but failed to do so. Four have filed lawsuits. Others don't see any point, as collection appears futile.
As previously noted, Antle's track record includes a personal bankruptcy, a drug trafficking charge (he was acquitted) and a cease-and-desist order issued by the B.C. Financial Institutions Commission.
He is clearly a difficult person to do business with.
He and/or his companies have been named as defendants in at least 20 civil suits (aside from the four mentioned above).
Although Antle purports to be offering debt consolidation services to the public, it's not clear that he has many clients.
"We know the firms that are active in the industry," Scott Hannah, president of the Credit Counselling Society, a non-profit society that offers free credit counselling services, said in an interview this week.
"We don't see (Antle's companies) active in the marketplace or hear about them from consumers, which leads me to believe they are not actively engaged, or have a very small presence in terms of debt-pooling services."
It's clear, however, that Antle has been very active in soliciting people to invest in his business.
One of the main promotional tools he used is the fact that Options Credit Services holds a provincial debt-pooling licence. He also promised to arrange government debt-pooling permits for his licensees, but has failed to do so.
Meanwhile, he continued to send client leads to his licensees, thereby inducing them to engage in debt-pooling transactions without them being properly licensed.
Many of the licensees didn't know they were not properly licensed because their licence agreement prohibited them from contacting CPBC without his permission. Otherwise, they would be subject to immediate termination with no compensation.
Another worrisome thing is that Antle stated in court documents in September 2012 that Options Credit Services (the entity licensed to conduct debt pooling business, which involves taking client money into trust) is insolvent.
This is reinforced by the fact that two licensees who obtained judgment against this company have been unable to collect.
None of this has slowed Antle, however. He has simply shifted gears and is now soliciting equity investments in Options Credit Services.
In an April 4 email pitch to a licensee who posed as a prospective investor, he described himself as the firm's "chief success officer" and portrayed the firm as profitable since inception.
He said the firm recently launched "Debt Works Canada," which he described as "a stand-alone fund that will purchase our best clients' debt early to allow a faster return to credit health."
He said Debt Works has a professional fund manager and already has institutional financing commitments of over $300,000. "It's an industry game changer," he gushed, adding that he expects the fund to be managing $100 million within five years, which would make the business worth $30 million.
"If you do not have a minimum of $25,000 to put in comfortably with a further commitment based on the above, this opportunity probably isn't for you," he stated.
Meanwhile, disgruntled licensees have been filing complaints with the Better Business Bureau of the Lower Mainland.
On April 17, the BBB gave Options Credit Canada Ltd. (which unlike Options Credit Services is not licensed to conduct debt-pooling business) an "F" rating, which is its lowest possible rating.
BBB explained that the company had been posting online ads offering to sell "debt management licences" for $15,000 each with projected first year earnings of $56,000, plus a buyback option.
"Upon request, the company could not provide any licensees who have earned in excess of $56,000. The BBB interviewed four licensees whose investments ranged from $15,000 to $25,000, and none of the licensees have made any earnings in the expected range proposed in the ads, and none of the licensees interviewed have received the monies promised from buy back option."
The BBB further noted that the company promised to ensure "all licenses and government permissions, but is not a licensed debt pooler in B.C. and doesn't have the authority to issue debt management licences."
It noted that the company's owner (presumably Antle) acknowledged this concern and had advised that the licensee program "is on hold until it meets provincial licensing requirements."
That same day, April 17, Antle sent an email to licensees announcing that "effective immediately the Options Credit Canada licensee program will be discontinued."
However, rather than blaming himself, he blamed disgruntled licensees who had been posting "vicious" and "dishonest" reports on the Internet.
"This continued online negative presence has rendered the operation of the program untenable," he said.
He said each licensee "will be offered an employment option with the company that will allow you to continue earning the exact same commission and first fees remuneration as you enjoy now."
So far Antle has not made that employment offer. Regardless, the offer appears specious because many licensees have already made it clear that their present level of compensation is inadequate (and in some cases, non-existent).
So where is the regulator in all this?
In an email this week, CPBC said it had received a complaint from a licensee in 2011, but took the position that the Business Practices and Consumer Protection Act does not apply to this sort of business-to-business transaction.
However, it said it has received another five complaints from licensees during the last month.
Those complaints contain "new information that we are in the process of assessing for the potential application of the Business Practices and Consumer Protection Act," the email explained.
I don't sense much urgency, however. CPBC told one licensee who complained on April 26 that an investigator would contact him within a week, but never did.
Meanwhile, Antle and his Options Credit Services remain licensed debt-poolers in good standing.
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