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Jury finds Sylvan Lake fraudster guilty

Police said victims bilked out of $2.6 million
(Red Deer Advocate file photo)

A jury has found a Sylvan Lake man guilty of bilking numerous investors out of at least $2.6 million in a phony oilpatch technology scheme.

RCMP announced in July 2018 that an arrest had been made after a lengthy investigation by Blackfalds RCMP and Red Deer's Financial Crimes Unit. At least 16 people were believed to have lost varying amounts of money between December 2007 and February 2013 after being convinced into investing in a product that was expected to make oil well fracking cheaper and more environmentally friendly.

Police also alleged investors were wrongly led to believe the technology was about to be sold to another company, leading to a financial windfall. Police said the alleged scam was linked to two numbered companies and N.E.XT. Legacy Technologies Ltd.

Dane Michael Skinner, 59, went on trial in February for fraud over $5,000 and laundering the proceeds of crime. The four-week trial was extended and began again on May 6, wrapping up on Thursday. The 12-man and two-woman jury, including two alternates, delivered its guilty verdict on Thursday evening.

In closing arguments on Thursday, Crown prosecutor Kristi Binns told the jury that the numerous stories Skinner told investors about where their money was going and the supposed success of fracking tests using his product simply did not add up and there was little to no paperwork backing up his claims.

He spent the money he was given on himself, including to support his gambling.

While his product was demonstrated to show it could crack concrete ingots, there was no evidence or data to show that it had the capability of cracking underground well casings for fracking.

"His product could not do what he said it could," said Binns.

"This is a very straightforward case of a man taking money from hard-working, honest people who trusted him."

Binns said to find Skinner guilty it was only necessary to be convinced of a reasonable doubt that he had committed fraud or laundered money at least once, not necessarily in each instance where that was alleged. It was also not necessary for jury members to agree on which specific instances they believed fraud or money laundering to have occurred, only that it did occur.

This year's trial was the third scheduled for Skinner. A trial was initially to take place in September 2021 but was delayed because he was getting treatment for cancer that caused hearing loss. That was rescheduled to begin on Jan. 30, 2023 and was to run until Feb 8 before it was also rescheduled.

The trial this year used technology that simultaneously converted speech into text so Skinner could follow along using a monitor.

The case returns to court on June 3 when a sentencing date is expected to be set. A pre-sentence report has also been ordered, which provides background on a convicted person to help the judge determine appropriate sentencing. Skinner is not in custody.