By David Baines, Vancouver Sun columnist
Chilliwack’s Don Antle refers to himself as “chief success officer” at his credit counselling firm, which is now doing business as Options Debt Consolidation Canada, but there are a few people who might scoff at that appellation.
From 2010 to 2012, Antle sold at least 15 operating licences in two of his debt counselling companies, Options Credit Canada Ltd. and Options Credit Services Canada Ltd. The price ranged from $10,000 to $25,000, but was usually $15,000.
Options Credit is in the debt-pooling business. It offers to help people who are struggling with debt by negotiating with creditors and consolidating monthly payments into a single lump sum, which the company takes into trust and disburses to the various creditors. Clients are charged a fee for the service, which is split between the firm and the licensee.
The licensees, for the most part, believe that Antle sold them a bill of goods. They complain that he made many promises but failed to deliver, leaving them with essentially worthless businesses.
Four have filed lawsuits. The most comprehensive claim was filed by Stan Kuss against Antle and Options Credit Canada Ltd. in Kelowna in January this year. Among other things, Kuss accuses Antle of “fraudulent and misleading business practices.”
In his claim, Kuss says he paid $15,000 plus $1,800 HST for a licence in November 2011: “It was clearly stated by the company that there was no selling involved and that pre-qualified clients would be referred to me by Options Credit Canada Ltd.”
The reality, he alleges, was quite different: “Over the course of the first four months after becoming a licensee, I received a total of 19 referrals compared to the 30 or 40 referrals per month that I was led to believe I could expect.
“In addition, the quality of the referrals that I did receive was very poor. Most people I contacted advised me they had never expressed interest in the company’s services at all or that they had done a cursory search on a website several months previously.
“Other referrals I contacted advised me they had already been contacted by someone at the company and had decided against using the services of the company or had been already advised by a representative of the company that they did not qualify for the service. Numerous people I contacted were quite hostile about being contacted as they felt I was harassing them.”
Kuss said Antle and other company reps told him he could expect $50,000 in income during the first year and up to $300,000 over a three or four-year period, but once again, the reality was quite different.
“I have never generated any business revenue as a result of my licence agreement with Options Credit Canada Ltd.,” he states in his claim.
He said the licence agreement gave him the right to a full refund after one year if he wasn’t satisfied with the results. He said he asked for his money back in May 2012, and Antle agreed to repay him, but has failed to do so and has not responded to further demands for payment.
In his reply, Antle claims that Kuss “was provided with real-time leads and the ongoing support and management necessary to qualify prospective clients and to generate revenue for his business.” However, he said Kuss spent a lot of time in Arizona and California and was not in a position to run a B.C.-based business.
With respect to the buyback guarantee, Antle said it is contingent on the licensee making his “best efforts” to develop the business, which Kuss failed to do.
Antle said he tried to find a replacement licensee, but since Kuss hadn’t developed the business, it couldn’t be re-sold.
The case is still before the court.
Richard Goosen of Richmond filed a similar lawsuit against Options Credit Services Canada Ltd. in Chilliwack small claims court in June 2011.
Goosen claimed that in November 2010, after answering an ad on Craigslist, he met with Antle and his wife, Karen.
He said Antle promised to provide training, website support, customer leads and all the necessary government permits. (Companies and individuals who sell debt-pooling services must be licensed by Consumer Protection B.C.) He said Antle told him he could expect $75,000 in revenues in the first year.
He said he immediately paid $15,000 plus HST and agreed to pay another $10,000 within two years. However, after three months, he had received only “meagre” training and support and only 12 leads, of which only one was a “live” lead. He demanded his money back.
Antle denied the allegations and counterclaimed for the $10,000 balance, but he failed to appear at the court hearing. The judge decided in Goosen’s favour, but he was unable to collect. In a payment hearing in August 2012, Antle claimed the company was insolvent.
In December 2011, Steve Stevic of Vancouver filed a claim in Chilliwack small claims court against Options Credit Canada Services Ltd.
He alleged that, just two months earlier, he had paid the company $15,000 plus HST for a licence, but the company failed to provide proper training or secure a licence from Consumer Protection B.C.
He further alleged that, after he talked with CPBC, Antle terminated his licence with no compensation. (The licence agreements contain a clause prohibiting licensees from contacting CPBC “for any reason” without the company’s prior consent.)
When the case went to court, Antle sent a lawyer who offered to pay back all Stevic’s money plus court expenses. Stevic accepted, but never received a cent. He is still trying to collect.
The most recent licensee to sue is Dave Piercey of Calgary. He filed a similar lawsuit in Chilliwack small claims court against Antle and Options Credit Services Canada Ltd. on April 3.
In his statement of claim, he said he answered a Kijiji ad offering the opportunity to earn $56,000 to $60,000 per year. He said Antle promised to provide enough good quality leads to achieve that level of income.
He said he paid $15,000 for a licence in April 2012, but Antle failed to provide the promised leads and so he asked for his money back. He said Antle agreed to repay him in 12 monthly instalments starting in March of this year, but he has failed to make any payments. Antle has not yet filed a reply.
Other licensees have not filed claims, but are considering banding together to file a lawsuit as joint plaintiffs. One of those licensees is Rohn Heaslip of Victoria, who said he paid $15,000 plus HST for a licence in May 2012.
“Antle claims he has this great program, that he’ll train you and generate all the leads for you. And when that doesn’t happens, there’s a period of excuses and delays, and when you finally dig your heels in, you get the total cold shoulder,” Heaslip said in an interview this week.
He said he made 30 calls to Antle over a two-week period to try to get his money back, “but he just avoided me.”