The following article appeared in The Province on August 5th, 2014 (go to original article)
There are a lot of people who wish they had never met Don Antle.
During the past decade and a half, the business practices of Donald Phillip Antle have attracted dozens of lawsuits, and have left many people angry, hurt and financially distressed around B.C.
Mel Schobel, a former business associate of Antle, says this about him: “One after another after another, he’s left such a trail of destruction behind him.”
The Province has interviewed more than a dozen people about their experiences with Antle â€” all of which, it’s fair to say, were negative.
Each story is different, with a common theme.
There are young graduates trying to get out of student debt, and there are senior citizens. They come from all over the province and Alberta. Their professions vary: doctor, lawyer, business owner, property manager, an IT analyst, a former CEO.
What they all have in common is the regret that they ever trusted Donald Antle.
For his part, Antle has told The Province he feels terrible that former associates and clients have lost money in their dealings with him. But he characterized them as failed business ventures, not intentional deceptions, and he says he never intended to defraud anyone.
So far, Antle has not faced criminal charges in connection with his business dealings â€” to the exasperation of many of his former clients and associates.
However, last month the Vancouver Police Department’s financial crime unit opened a fraud investigation into complaints about Donald Antle’s debt management business.
‘WE ARE VERY CONCERNED,’ SAYS CONSUMER WATCHDOG
Until recently, Donald Philip Antle was licensed as a debt pooler and claimed to offer services to help people get out of unwieldy debt.
After the lawsuits and complaints piled up high enough, an investigation by Consumer Protection B.C. found several regulatory breaches, and the company’s licence was cancelled in March.
Antle is not facing any criminal charges in B.C., and has never been the subject of disciplinary action from the B.C. Securities Commission.
For at least three years, until his licence was cancelled, Antle worked as a licensed debt pooler in B.C., with companies called Options Credit Canada Ltd. and Options Credit Services Canada Ltd.
Debt pooling, or debt consolidation, is a legitimate profession, regulated and licensed by Consumer Protection B.C. A debt pooler works with people trying to manage their debt, accepts money from them into a trust account, and distributes funds to the clients’ creditors in an agreed-upon payment program. The debt pooler charges clients a fee for the service, and may also attempt to negotiate a reduced interest rate on the debt payments.
There are 15 licensed debt pooling agencies or debt poolers in B.C., according to Consumer Protection B.C.
In March, when CPBC announced it was cancelling Options Credit’s licence and freezing the business’s bank accounts, they requested “all consumers financially impacted by the business practices of Options Credit Services Canada Ltd. to come forward.”
Tayt Winnitoy, vice-president of operations at Consumer Protection B.C., said it was a complex investigation from the start, involving a number of consumers and a variety of financial transactions. “We are very concerned about the financial impact that may be felt by consumers as a result of this company’s business practices,” Winnitoy said in a statement.
The consumers in this case were people trying to get out of debt; people who trusted Antle to help them.
In addition to the consumers, a second group of angry people have filed complaints and lawsuits over their dealings with Antle. These people call themselves “the licensees.” They thought they were signing up for a legitimate opportunity to work as licensed debt poolers with Options Credit. They have alleged in court that the licences and the opportunities were bogus, and that they each lost five-figure dollar sums when they signed up to work for Antle.
Antle, who spoke to The Province about his dealings, said he is sad that his “innocent clients” lost money with him. But he was not, he said, in a position to pay them back.
As for the licensees, Antle said the complaints against him from his former licensees are largely “motivated by revenge” on the part of people with an “axe to grind.”
While Antle admits he did not have the authority to issue debt-pooling licences, he is also adamant that his debt-management business also “helped lots and lots of clients,” and that some of the licensees were happy. But he has not been able to put any of those people in touch with The Province.
In July, the VPD’s financial crime unit assigned a detective to look into Antle. Lead investigator Det. Ivan De Silva said last week he’s in the “preliminary stages” of a fraud investigation.
De Silva said anyone who might have relevant information about Antle and his business dealings should contact the VPD.
For many of Antle’s former associates interviewed by The Province, that came as very welcome news.
HE ‘HAS NO HEART, NO SOUL, NO NOTHING’
Angela, one of Don Antle’s “consumers,” said she went to Options Credit to try to get out of debt responsibly, only to lose tens of thousands of dollars and end up far deeper in debt.
She knows she is far from alone. She’s talked to more than a dozen people who, like her, blame Antle for making their lives much harder.
“That’s what makes me so mad about this guy,” said Angela, who asked that her full name not be published. “He’s changed so many people’s lives.”
Angela, who lives in Vancouver, first went to Options Credit in 2012, looking for help managing her debt.
She signed up as a client to use Options’ services, and transferred a five-figure dollar amount into a trust account controlled by Antle, with the understanding it would be paid to her creditors.
She thought that with Antle’s help, she could get out of debt without doing further damage to her credit rating.
Antle seemed professional, she said. He seemed to know what he was talking about.
And more than that, she said, he seemed to care: “He was also so concerned, and always being so nice.”
Angela checked with Consumer Protection to make sure Antle had a licence to operate his debt-pooling business. She checked with CIBC to make sure Options Credit did indeed have a trust account there. Everything seemed to check out. She deposited the money.
It wasn’t until a year later, when Angela was served with court papers from her bank, that she realized something was wrong. The bank hadn’t received its payments.
Antle evaded her when she tried to get the money back and find out what happened. Angela spoke to police, and eventually, to a number of other people who had dealt with Antle.
Angela told The Province: “I was stuck with Don, trying to get the refund, the whole time thinking ‘OK, I’m going to get the refund, I’ll be able to settle this myself, everything is going to be good. I can move on with my life, and I’m going to be OK again.’ But no, it hasn’t been like that. I’m stuck still, waiting for something to happen. When can I move on and start living my life normally again?”
She hopes to still see criminal charges laid against Antle, both for her own closure, and for the sake of other people out there.
“I just don’t want this guy to do it to anybody else,” she said.
“The guy has no heart, no soul, no nothing.”
‘NO DEBTS HAD BEEN SETTLED’
In 2012, a B.C. doctor filed a lawsuit claiming he had deposited $32,000 in trust with Options Credit to “settle unsecured debts.” However, after a few months, the complainant realized “no debts had been settled.”
When the doctor only received a partial refund he took Antle to court. Antle filed a response to the suit in 2012, saying, “Options Credit Services Canada Ltd. is insolvent, not operating, no assets and no ability to pay.”
Antle acknowledged last week that he had continued to sign up clients for Options’ debt-management plan even after he had claimed in court the company was insolvent.
But, he said, “I feel terrible, I feel brutal … but to characterize these as predatory, I think that’s very, very, very unfair.”
“At the end of the day, there was never any intent to do any harm to anybody,” said Antle.
Instead, Antle said, the company losing its licence and going out of business was largely the result of the actions of disgruntled licensees, who, after some of them filed lawsuits, continued to “go on a concentrated, concerted campaign to wreck the reputation of the company, to wreck my reputation, and to make sure we couldn’t carry on business.”
Antle said the campaign included negative postings online about Antle and the company, many of which he said were untrue and anonymously posted. It was largely because of that campaign, Antle said, that the company lost its licence and went out of business, and as a result, he said, the clients lost the money they had placed in trust.
Angela said she’s not sure how many other Options Credit clients are out there, but she is aware of at least 15 people who dealt with Antle and his companies as licensees. Several people have alleged that after they entered into a licensing arrangement with Antle, he failed to deliver and dodged them when they tried to get their money back, according to lawsuits filed in the B.C. Court Registry.
SOME CLIENT LEADS ‘WENT BACK 10 YEARS’
The lawsuit filed by Mel Schobel, a 76-year-old Abbotsford man, is representative of several of the burned licensees. Sitting in a coffee shop in Abbotsford, Schobel leafs through a four-inch-thick binder of documents and records he’s compiled relating to Antle.
Schobel responded to a posting on Craigslist for an opportunity to earn $50,000 as a licensed part-time debt pooler.
His civil claim alleges he signed up to Antle’s company, Options Credit Canada Ltd., and paid a fee of $10,000. In return, Options was supposed to provide Schobel with a licence and real-time leads for signing up new clients for Options’ debt-management program.
Schobel never got the licence, he alleges in the civil claim, and Antle “never supplied me with adequate clients on a consistent basis … Some of the leads went back 10 years and there were a number of them that never requested any information regarding debt resolution.”
In response, Antle said the Options licensee program was simply a “bad idea.” It was nothing dishonest, he said, but instead a series of “mistakes.” As the director of the company, Antle said, he was responsible. But, he said, he was not enriching himself through the money from the licensees.
The plan was outlined, the licensees said, over numerous meetings, phone calls and emails with Antle. After paying Antle for a licence â€” the most common fee was $15,000, but some were more than $20,000 â€” the licensee was supposed to receive a “client intake fee” charged to the client, every time the licensee signed someone up for the Options debt-management program.
In addition, the licensee was to receive a set percentage of each debt payment, on a commission basis, for as long as the payment plan was in effect. This was outlined in stacks of documents provided to The Province by numerous licensees who took Antle to court â€” in pages of detailed business proposals, spreadsheets of revenue projections, and the signed licensee agreements, which appear to be signed by both the licensee and Antle.
In fact, Schobel said that with the licensing fee of $10,000 he paid Antle, he “got off relatively easy.”
‘EVERYTHING SEEMED ABOVE BOARD’
Schobel said the first time he walked into Antle’s Chilliwack office in 2012 he was impressed by the man.
“You just get to like him right away, you’re comfortable, you trust him and everything seemed above board,” Schobel said.
In the package of documents Schobel said Antle presented to him when they met, the business plan outlines an “In-Demand and Remarkably Desireable (sic) Product,” “A Huge and Steadily Growing Market across Canada,” “Above Average Earning Potential, plus Monthly Residuals” and “A Built-in and Amazingly Lucrative Exit Strategy.”
“Guess what; there is no downside to the client; none. It is a ‘win-win-win,'” the document says, explaining that Options Credit’s program is a “win” for the creditor and the client, as well as for Antle’s company.
Of course, Schobel said, it now appears the only side benefiting from the supposed “win-win-win” deal was Options and its director, Antle.
But from Schobel’s perspective at the time, the prospect of making money wasn’t the only appealing part. In the debt-pooling business, Schobel saw an opportunity to help people. That resonated with him.
“I thought, ‘This is great, I can help people.’ That’s something I’m passionate about.”
He didn’t realize it at the time, but Schobel now says it was a blessing in disguise that he never successfully signed up a client for Antle’s services. If he had signed someone up for Options, he said, he believes that client could now be another disgruntled person in what he called Antle’s “trail of destruction.”
One licensee in the Okanagan said she paid Antle $15,000 to be an Options Credit licensee. Unfortunately, unlike Schobel, the woman, who asked that her name not be published, did successfully sign up at least one consumer for Options’ services.
That consumer signed over tens of thousands of dollars to Antle to handle in trust. The consumer hasn’t been able to recover any of that money, and with interest, has gone further into debt.
The Okanagan woman said of Antle: “He is surely the smoothest wolf in sheep clothes I have ever met. It is sad … He is still carrying on and getting away with it.”
The website of Options Credit Services Canada Ltd. has disappeared from the Internet. But at one time, the site bore a slogan that now draws bitter derision from former clients and associates.
“Remember,” the Options website proclaimed, “at Options our real service is hope. Our ultimate product is you.”
WHAT PEOPLE SAY ABOUT ANTLE, AND HIS RESPONSE
Reporter Dan Fumano spoke at length to clients of Don Antle and to those who worked for him as licensees. He also spoke for hours to Don Antle.
What people have said about Don Antle:
“He’s one of these people who has an answer for everything right off the cuff. He’s very, I don’t know if I’d say he’s articulate, but he’s a good talker. He just has that air about him. If you do shut down one company, he just pops up again. He’s like a bad weed.”
â€” Stan Kuss, a former licensee in Kelowna who filed a lawsuit against Antle last year, seeking $20,087 he claimed he lost.
“It’s bad enough to lose money because you think you’re making a business deal with him. It’s quite another when you’re some poor unsuspecting person, up to their nose in debt, and then all of a sudden, this guy is taking the last little bit that you had.”
â€” David Piercey, a Calgary businessman and former licensee who filed a suit against Antle seeking to get back $18,263 he said he lost.
Former licensee Steve Stevic last saw Don Antle outside the courthouse in Chilliwack.
“I said, ‘What kind of man are you? Do you know what you are doing to people? … I told him, ‘You destroy people’s lives.'”
â€” Stevic filed a suit against Options Credit Canada Ltd. in 2011, seeking to get back $20,976 he said he lost.
“I continue to get threats from him on the phone. You can quote me on that. He’s a wonderful actor. He should be on stage.”
â€” Rohn Heaslip, a Victoria businessman who said he signed up to work with Don Antle and lost $15,000.
“He’s extremely slippery. I took him to court. I won the case, and that didn’t help me nothing.”
â€” Richard Goosen, a former licensee who filed a lawsuit seeking $16,976. Goosen was awarded a judgment, but Antle claimed his company was insolvent and Goosen never received a dime.
What Don Antle says:
“I feel terrible about it. I mean, who wouldn’t feel terrible about it. I feel brutal about it. I wish I could have resolved it. It’s like anything else, you feel it slipping away, but there was nothing I could do about it anymore. I tried everything.”
â€” Antle on his companies going out of business
“It’s revenge. I’m sure a lot of people would say ‘That’s fine, they deserve revenge.’ Well OK, then they’re having their revenge. But don’t act surprised, that’s all I’m saying, don’t act surprised when there’s no ability to pay you anything.”
â€” Antle on the licensees and how he believes they made it impossible for him to do business with an online campaign against him
“Mistakes were made. People were hurt. There are consequences. Part of the consequences are the situation I find myself in today. Part of the consequences are the fact that these people are owed money. Part of the consequences are that there are innocent clients who got caught up in the whole mess.”
â€” Antle on clients who lost money
“I’m confident I didn’t do anything wrong criminally. Absolutely confident.”
â€” Antle on learning of a police investigation
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