Calgary Herald

Convicted fraudster fled country, says prosecutor

Ronald James Aitkens escaped to U.S. on same day he was to have been sentenced

- KEVIN MARTIN X: @Kmartincou­rts

A former Lethbridge pastor, who was to be sentenced for fraud in a Calgary courtroom last week, crossed the border into the U.S. on the day he was to hear his fate, a prosecutor said Wednesday.

Alberta Securities Commission lawyer Yasifina Somji told Justice Lloyd Robertson that officials confirmed Ronald James Aitkens, 68, entered the United States on Nov. 6.

On that day, Aitkens's lawyer, Brian Beresh, appeared before the Calgary Court of Justice judge to say he had no informatio­n about Aitkens's whereabout­s and hadn't heard from his client.

On Wednesday, Somji told Robertson why Aitkens didn't appear before him.

“Intelligen­ce sources advised Mr. Aitkens entered into the U.S. on Nov. 6,” Somji said.

“I can advise he has not crossed back into Canada.”

Student at law Hannah Hunter told court that Beresh has not received any further informatio­n about Aitkens.

“Mr. Beresh has no informatio­n about the whereabout­s of Mr. Aitkens or why he failed to appear for his sentencing hearing,” said Hunter, appearing on the defence lawyer's behalf.

It wasn't the first time Aitkens caused a delay in his sentence by not appearing.

Just two weeks earlier, on Oct. 23, Beresh appeared before Robertson to indicate his client was at his residence in Lethbridge after testing positive for COVID -19 the night before.

Somji and co-prosecutor Amanda Goodwin at that point asked Robertson to sentence Aitkens in his absence, but the judge said he would wait to hand the convicted con man his punishment in person.

“I am not going to proceed. I am going to issue a warrant for the arrest of Ronald James Aitkens,” he said.

Aitkens's prosecutio­n under the Alberta Securities Act has been before the courts for more than a decade, experienci­ng multiple delays.

He was originally charged in September 2013, in connection with dealings with investors in a real estate project.

Robertson convicted him on July 20, 2020, of two charges under the provincial act, including fraud, in the scheme that saw nearly 1,500

I am not going to proceed. I am going to issue a warrant for the arrest of Ronald James Aitkens.

investors fork over more than $35 million into Legacy Communitie­s Inc.

During sentencing submission­s last June, then-prosecutor Peter Hurich had sought a total punishment of five years imprisonme­nt, four years for the fraud conviction and an additional year for making a false or misleading statement in an offering memorandum.

But Beresh said the total term exceeded the maximum punishment for a single charge under the act of five years less a day. He suggested a conditiona­l sentence order of less than two years, which would be served in the community, was appropriat­e.

Aitkens's sentencing will proceed if he is arrested on the warrant.

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