Father Barney Canada, a make-believe Roman Catholic priest accused of duping developers of Trump Tower Tampa out of $150,000, has been arrested and charged with swindling $2.7 million from developers across Florida and the United States.
A grand jury in South Bend, Ind., charged Byron Levon Canada with 31 counts of wire and mail fraud, money laundering and conspiracy. The indictment was handed down in U.S. District Court on Dec. 9. Taken into custody Monday, Canada pleaded not guilty.
Canada was charged with running an "advance fee scheme" that collected millions in application fees for commercial loans he never intended to provide.
Most of the alleged victims were companies like SimDag LLC, developer of Trump Tower Tampa. Locked out of the traditional lending market, SimDag sought out Canada for a $200 million construction loan. Canada promised quick loan approval, took a $150,000 fee but never delivered, according to the developers.
SimDag fell into bankruptcy several months later, having never built a single story of the 52-story luxury condo skyscraper. It was the same story for developers in Fort Lauderdale, Miami and elsewhere.
Canada spent three years in prison in the 1990s for another advance fee scheme. He re-emerged in South Bend, near the University of Notre Dame, portraying himself as a pious clergyman running a religiously affiliated company, Providence Funding.
"Canada represented himself to be a priest and dressed in cleric garb when meeting with victims in order to give the defendants' advance fee scheme an aura of legitimacy and honesty," the indictment said.
But in each case, when the loan was to close, Canada stopped answering calls and e-mails. The fees were never seen again. The federal government demanded Canada repay $2.7 million and said it will try to seize assets.
Trump Tower principals settled out of court with Canada this fall. "I can't say anything because of the confidentiality agreement," SimDag bankruptcy attorney Jeff Warren said Tuesday. "But I've got a smile on my face."