Harper Grey wins order for lawyer-turned-farmer Briner
IN A footnote to the criminal case against disbarred Vancouver securities lawyer John Briner, court filings have revealed that he neglected to pay the law firm that represented him in the case. That firm, Harper Grey LLP, has obtained a court order to recover its legal fees. The order, handed down on Nov. 21, 2017, directs Mr. Briner to pay $15,974.
The order comes about 22 months after Mr. Briner pleaded guilty in the Provincial Court of British Columbia to a charge stemming from vi-
olations of an officer and director ban. In 2010 he received a five-year ban for aiding the pump-and-dump of an OTC Bulletin Board listing, Golden Apple Oil & Gas Inc. (The B.C. Securities Commission had barred him from trading, serving as an officer or director, carrying out investor relations work, and from acting in a management or consulting role in the securities market. While subject to the ban, he remained a director of a number of entities, including his own law firm.)
The legal bill at issue arose out of that criminal case. Over a one-year period, Harper Grey lawyer Rod Anderson represented Mr. Briner and ultimately negotiated a guilty plea. It now appears, however, that Harper Grey’s invoices were going unpaid during that period. An invoice summary attached to the Nov. 21 order shows that Mr. Briner paid $3,000 worth of fees, leaving $15,974 owing. To recover the amount, Harper Grey filed a lawsuit in the Provincial Court of British Columbia. Mr. Briner did not contest the suit, resulting in the order handed down on Nov. 21.
For Mr. Briner, the legal bill far exceeds the penalty that he received in the criminal case. On Feb. 9, 2016, the judge imposed a $1,000 fine on him, with the payment representing his entire sentence. In imposing the fine, the judge acknowledged that Mr. Briner had no criminal record and would have to live with the stigma of being charged.
(Ahead of sentencing, Mr. Briner claimed that he did not entirely understand the BCSC ban. He said that his understanding was that the ban only applied to public companies. He did not realize that it applied to private entities such as his law firm or another entity that he controlled, called Jervis Exploration.)
Since his guilty plea, Mr. Briner has found himself a new career, that of a hop farmer. He is the sole director of a company called Northwest Hop Farms Inc. (His five-year ban expired in 2015, so he may legitimately occupy that role.) On its website, the company calls itself a Fraser Valley hop farm and hop distributor.
It is not clear how successful his new venture is, but Mr. Briner did recently attract a fawning article from Vancouver Sun reporter Brian Minter. On Oct. 17, 2017, Mr. Minter reported on the craft brewing industry and how it was sourcing some of its hops from the Chilliwack area. The article, which contained many quotes from Mr. Briner, mentioned that he and his father had a 50-acre farm in the area. “We must admire the growers who are now producing hops for the Canadian market and the craft brewers who create so many great new beers and ales. I wish John Briner and his father the very best in their new venture,” the piece read.
The piece did not mention Mr. Briner’s past troubles with securities regulators, which go back to Sept. 1, 2009. On that date, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filed a civil complaint in New York against Mr. Briner and others for the pump-and-dump of Golden Apple. The SEC claimed that Mr. Briner helped a Toronto man named Jay Budd, who pumped Golden Apple to $3.70 with misleading news releases. During the promotion, a private company that Mr. Budd controlled, Ethos Investments Inc . , sold $3.4-million (U.S.) worth of stock, the SEC claimed.
Both men settled the case out of court, without admitting any wrongdoing. Mr. Briner received $92,368 (U.S.) in fines and agreed to a five-year ban from participating in penny stock offerings and from serving as an officer or director of a public company. Mr. Budd agreed to a permanent penny stock ban and received $4.7-million (U.S.) in fines.
After the SEC case concluded, the BCSC imposed reciprocal sanctions on Mr. Briner. On April 5, 2011, the local regulator banned him from trading, serving as an officer or director, carrying out investor relations work, and from acting in a management or consulting role in the securities market. The BCSC ban was in effect until Nov. 3, 2015.
The SEC cited Mr. Briner again on Jan. 15, 2015, for a shell scheme. The U.S. regulator said that he set up 20 purported mining companies in 2011 and 2012 using sham property deals. He hid his role with the companies, putting nominee officers in control, the SEC claimed. Mr. Briner settled that matter without a hearing, agreeing to a $71,820 (U.S.) fine and a permanent ban. He did not admit any wrongdoing.
Separate from those troubles, Mr. Briner ran afoul of the Law Society of British Columbia. On Nov. 30, 2015, the society disbarred him for misappropriating client money. The society said that he had $50,439 in his trust account that he was supposed to hold for a client, but instead used it for other purposes. Mr. Briner had contended that the problem was an accounting error, but the Law Society determined that he was “not being honest and forthright.”