Missing B.C. investment dealer and former Olympian investigated for fraud

VANCOUVER – A missing investment dealer and former Canadian Olympic rower has had his licence terminated by a mutual funds company in the midst of its fraud investigation, one of at least three probes in the case.

Investia Financial Services Inc. is investigating Harold Backer, who hasn’t been seen since Nov. 3 and is also the subject of two missing-persons investigations — in his hometown of Victoria and in Washington state.

“As soon as we knew the situation, that Mr. Backer had disappeared, we started the investigation,” said Investia spokesman Pierre Picard from Quebec City.

“Mr. Backer failed to follow our policies and procedures, which required him to disclose all outside business activities,” the company said in a statement issued by Picard.

He said the investigation was also prompted by a letter Backer sent to some clients, in which he apologized for mismanaging their money, and the company’s discussions “with affected clients.”

“Investia has terminated Mr. Backer’s registration due to a fraud investigation,” the statement said.

The Victoria Police Department has said Backer, 52, told his wife on Nov. 3 that he was going for a bike ride but failed to return home.

Police in Port Angeles, Wash., said last week that an officer who viewed video from a street security camera for that day noted a man fitting Backer’s description was aboard a ferry from Victoria, a 90-minute trip away.

Backer, who competed in rowing in the 1984, 1988 and 1992 Olympic Games, had 20 clients with Investia.

The company said it had contacted all of them, that money related to their registered accounts is intact and they were issued regular statements.

However, Backer had other dealings on the side, Investia’s investigation has revealed.

“Some clients have confirmed that they had personally invested with Mr. Backer and wrote cheques directly to My Financial Backer Corp., as far back as 1996.

“These monies never flowed through Investia,” the company said, adding it is co-operating with police and regulatory investigations.

Backer has been a representative for Investia since June 2005. The company said it had received no complaints from his clients.

The Canadian Securities Administrators lists Backer as a seller of mutual funds in British Columbia and Ontario, and its website says he agreed to be closely supervised.

The term means those mutual fund sellers must disclose trades to a company within 24 hours.

Terry Paul, who was Backer’s rowing teammate in the 1988 Games in Seoul and the ’92 Games in Barcelona, said he last saw Backer in Victoria at the end of October.

Paul said Backer may have written a letter to clients “out of the goodness of his heart” after realizing “he got in over his head” in the mutual funds business.

“I just think living with that had to be incredibly stressful for him. I just can’t imagine what he’s been going through for how long and what he’s going through now.

“He’s a friend, and I’m concerned I’ll never see him again,” said Paul, adding he has spoken with Backer’s wife on the phone a few times in the last couple of weeks.

“She’s obviously shaken up. A lot of people have reached out to her and she sounds like she’s in shock.”

Paul said he read bedtime stories to Backer’s three now-adult children, including his eldest daughter who recently graduated from Harvard, and that he’s concerned about how they are taking their father’s disappearance.

“I feel sick to my stomach when I think about what’s happening with an old friend.”

Richard Gilhooley, a spokesman for the B.C. Securities Commission, said he could not provide any information about Backer.

“As a regular protocol, we don’t confirm or deny investigations and we don’t confirm or deny whether we’ve received complaints from the public. Sometimes complainants want to be kept anonymous so we don’t want to do anything that might compromise that.”

The Mutual Fund Dealers Association, which represents 103 firms involving 83,000 sellers across Canada except in Quebec, takes the lead in any investigations though provincial regulators could also conduct their own probes.

The association would not comment on whether it is investigating Backer.