Toronto lawyer facing 75 charges over missing $15 million

While Toronto lawyer Meerai Cho has said the loss of $15 million in property buyers’ deposits was inadvertent, police who laid 75 criminal charges against her today believe otherwise.

“We don’t have the foundation for that right now,” said Toronto Police Det.-Const. Chris Devereux of Cho’s suggestions she mistakenly transferred the deposits to the developer before the building planned for North York was complete and the transactions had closed.

The 75 charges laid against Cho this morning include 25 counts of fraud over $5,000, 25 counts of possession of property obtained by fraud over $5,000, and 25 counts of criminal breach of trust, police announced this afternoon. None of the allegations have been proven in court.

The charges relate to 25 victims who have come forward so far, but police suspect there are as many as 141 of them. Victims have lost up to $700,000 depending on how much they put down and what they were planning to buy in the mixed residential, commercial, and hotel development on Yonge Street.

“She will definitely be facing more charges as more complainants come forward,” said Devereux.

“Obviously . . . our complainants are devastated,” he added.

The losses accounted for in the criminal charges are $2 million. The Law Society of Upper Canada is investigating the loss of $15 million in total deposits

After her arrest this morning, police released Cho, 63, on a promise to appear in court on Oct. 2.

“At this time, Ms. Cho is not communicating with us, giving us any information,” said Det.-Const. Chris Briggs, another investigator in the case, of her co-operation with police so far.

The case relates to almost $15 million received in trust from purchasers of condo units in the Centrium condominium project at 5220 Yonge St. in north Toronto.

In response to an LSUC motion to suspend her licence while it investigates the matter, Cho said she had never represented a builder before the Centrium project and had never held trust funds that didn’t belong to her clients. When the Centrium developer, Joseph Lee, started asking her to transfer the deposit fees to him in November 2010, she believed he had authority to instruct her to do so, her lawyer Bill Trudell wrote in a response filed in the law society case.

Cho graduated from law school at the age of 50 and the Centrium project was “by far the biggest project on which Ms. Cho had worked,” Trudell noted.

She didn’t appear at a planned LSUC hearing into the matter today at which the regulator went ahead with a temporary suspension of her licence.

In explaining the charges, Devereux noted the clients’ money had disappeared from two of her trust accounts, one of which had been closed since 2012.

“Given the amount of money, I would suggest there’s something else involved,” said Devereux, casting doubt on some of Cho’s explanations so far.

While Cho has said in her law society responses that she transferred the money to Lee, Devereux said there’s no evidence of that so far.

“Criminally, again for us, it’s just a basic paper trail,” he said. “The purpose of the trust account is to hold the money in trust.”

Police said they began receiving complaints in July.

“For our station, this is the largest fraud we’ve ever had to deal with in 32 Division,” said Devereux at the press conference at the station.

As for the victims, he noted they could recover up to $20,000 from Tarion Warranty Corp. And as for Lee, Cho believes he’s now in Korea.

Devereux said police haven’t been able to determine his whereabouts but noted that if that’s the case and he has the money, there are options to seek to recover the money through mutual assistance arrangements with other countries, a process he acknowledged can take a long time.

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