The fate of a Langley condo developer charged with fraud in California is in the hands of the B.C. Court of Appeal.
Three judges of the province’s top court heard arguments Friday over whether Mark Chandler should be extradited to face a charge following an FBI investigation of a failed land development deal in Los Angeles.
Between 2009 and 2011, Chandler was in L.A. trying to develop a 21-storey condo tower on Hill Street.
He was charged with fraud and arrested in Canada in 2015, but has been fighting extradition ever since.
Before the hearing began, Chandler’s lawyer Michael Bolton had called for an adjournment, due to an accusation by the Office of the Superintendent of Real Estate for B.C. (OSRE) that Chandler’s company had mishandled $10 million from would-be customers.
Chandler’s company allegedly received the $10 million in deposits from purchasers, and then failed to place them in a trust, as required by B.C. law.
The OSRE announced an upcoming hearing on the matter, and Chandler is expected to appear as a witness, Bolton said.
However, after a very brief break, the three-judge Court of Appeal panel decided it was no reason to delay the extradition proceedings.
During Friday’s hearing, Bolton argued that the original extradition judge made several errors in her ruling.
He argued that the judge should have allowed into evidence various affidavits and other documents presented by Chandler, which could have swayed the decision.
He was also, as during the first extradition hearing, highly critical of the quality of the evidence against his client.
“The record of the case is fundamentally unreliable,” said Bolton.
However, the judges did not always agree with Bolton’s interpretation of evidence.
One allegation in the U.S. case is that Chandler showed a fake cheque and loan agreement with a forged signature to various investors in the failed L.A. condo project.
Bolton argued that it made no sense. What benefit would Chandler receive from pretending to have money?
“It makes a lot of sense,” said Justice Susan Griffin. “That’s a classic con, isn’t it?”
Griffin said she wasn’t saying it was a con, but it was typical to try to convince people that investing is safe, by claiming other smart people are investing.
John Gibb-Carsley, a lawyer with the federal Justice Department, again argued that there was more than sufficient evidence available to suggest Chandler should go on trial. He emphasized that weighing the evidence isn’t the point of an extradition hearing.
Inferences drawn from the evidence were not relevant, Gibb-Carsley said.
“It is not a trial,” Gibb-Carsley said. “Guilt and innocence are not at stake.”
Were Chandler’s partners and investors simply unlucky to lose money, or were they the victim of fraud?
“These are issues for trial, not for extradition,” said Gibb-Carsley.
He briefly reviewed key pieces of evidence alleged by the FBI.
They include the fake cheque and loan agreement, assurances to two alleged victims that their investments were safe, and claims that Chandler had money tied up in court in Canada, when in fact he was being sued for millions in Canada.
There was also a money trail that showed money borrowed for the L.A. project was transferred to a trust controlled by Chandler. Days later, that trust paid for a $90,000 Hawaiian vacation.
The Appeal Court judges will rule on the extradition at a future date.
Chandler remains free on bail.
Chandler is best known in Langley for his central role in the numbered company that developed the Murrayville House condo project. The 91-unit building was to have been finished in 2016, but was not completed until 2018.
After multiple lawsuits by creditors were filed, the project was placed in receivership, and a court-appointed firm finally began selling the units last summer.
An RCMP investigation was launched into Murrayville House, but no charges have been laid.
It’s unknown when the hearing for the OSRE will be scheduled.
“We will be contesting all the allegations,” said J.P. Dhaliwal, the CFO for the Chandler Group of Companies.
He said they have provided evidence to demonstrate that all funds were accounted for, he said.
A report last year by the receiver, the Bowra Group, showed the project owed $62 million to creditors. A 2018 appraisal suggested it was worth about $38 million.