Man sentenced for role as ‘runner’ in sophisticated, Canada-wide ‘grandparent scam’

Matt Smith/ Saskatoon StarPhoenix. The Provincial Courthouse in Saskatoon.

Bre McAdam

Saskatoon StarPhoenix

A sophisticated criminal organization operating out of Eastern Canada sent three Quebec men to Saskatoon to collect money from seniors tricked into believing they were helping bail a grandchild out of legal trouble.

Cedric Boivin Oligny, who lives in Montreal, was hired as a “runner,” posing as a bail bondsman in an elaborate fraud referred to as the “grandparent scam,” a Saskatoon provincial courtroom heard during Oligny’s sentencing hearing.

On Jan. 10, 2023, he and two other men took two cab trips to collect $9,000 from a couple and $10,000 from a woman.

Reading the agreed facts, Crown prosecutor Carol Carlson said one of the victims had received a call the day before. A man claiming to be their grandson said he injured a pregnant woman in a car crash, and police found drugs when they searched his car. The phone was then passed to a fake police officer who told the man his grandson would be released if he posted $9,000 bail.

The fake officer called back to say he was sending a bail bondsman to pick up the money. Carlson said the female victim received a similar call from someone pretending to be a lawyer, asking for $10,000 bail.

Carlson said Oligny did not personally collect the money that day because his clothing did not fit the organization’s “dress code.”

Oligny and another co-accused, Sofyane Elgamal, were arrested the next day while getting gas on 22nd Street. Police knew what car they were driving after they had arrested a third man, Ahmad Ebad Ebadi, the day before.

Collectively, the men are accused of defrauding 10 victims in their early 70s to mid-90s of more than $100,000 during three separate trips to Saskatoon between Dec. 30, 2022 and Jan. 10, 2023.

Ebadi, 26, pleaded guilty this week to a single charge of fraud over $5,000 involving nine victims. His sentencing is scheduled for June 11.

On Thursday, Oligny, 27, pleaded guilty to one count of fraud over $5,000 involving three victims, and one count of conspiracy to commit fraud.

He was sentenced to nine months in jail, concurrent on both charges, after Judge Brad Mitchell accepted a joint submission from the Crown and defence.

Oligny was also ordered to repay the stolen money.

His two criminal organization charges were stayed at the conclusion of sentencing. Carlson said Oligny had limited involvement in a complex Canada-wide fraud network created by people who hide behind phones while “runners” become the faces of the scheme and take the fall.

“(But) every cog in the wheel is important for the wheel to turn,” she noted.

Subhead: The scheme

After his arrest, Oligny was instructed to tell police that he thought he was going to Saskatoon for legitimate work. It was a lie.

Court heard investigators learned how the scheme worked through messaging groups on Signal, an encrypted messaging service, that were created every time a “runner” was sent to a new city.

“All of those individuals played a role in this particular scam. Some were involved with recruitment, some were involved with travel arrangements, some were involved with booking hotels, assisting with mapping locations to retrieve the moneys, some were runners, some couriered the monies to the group,” Carlson said.

Others were involved in making the phone calls, pretending to be lawyers, police officers and grandchildren.

After the callers convinced the victims to take out money, the “runners” were given information about the target, the story they were told, where to collect the money and how much.

Carlson said the scheme only halted after a Saskatoon couple helped organize a police sting to catch the scammers.

Subhead: The Sting

Larry — the StarPhoenix is not publishing his last name because of safety concerns — got a call from someone purporting to be his grandson on Jan. 10, 2023.

“I was aware of the scam going on, I was aware of the modus operandi, and yet when my supposed grandson called me, that all seemed to go out the window, and I had my coat on and was on my way to the bank to get $9,000,” he said after attending Oligny’s sentencing.

Something didn’t sit right as he neared the elevator of his condo. Larry said he called his son, who works in a legal profession, to ask about the process for delivering bail money.

He then called his grandson, who was not in jail.

“We called the police and offered that we would tell the scammers that we would get the money for them, and that the police could be in the shadows and arrest them when they came to get it,” Larry said.

Officers agreed, and the scheme unfolded over the next few hours. It included Larry stuffing an envelope with “bills” made of cut up newspaper.

When the “runner,” in this case Ebadi, came to get the money, he was arrested.

“The adrenalin was running pretty high and as the day got on, I got more nervous about it and my wife kind of took over as being the contact person, and I have to give her credit for being calm,” Larry said.

He’s satisfied with the jail sentence and restitution order, and urges people who get these calls to hang up and call their grandchildren, he added.

The scammer

Oligny appeared by video on Thursday, wearing a black and white striped shirt. Court heard he is in custody on Quebec matters after being released on his Saskatoon charges in February 2023.

His lawyer, Patrick Davis, also appearing by video, said Oligny turned to gaming and drugs after losing his gardening business during the pandemic — a business he hopes to rebuild when he gets out of jail.

Oligny, who has no prior criminal record, did not offer an apology to his victims. He will serve his sentence in Quebec.

No victim impact statements were filed in this case, but Carlson said other victims have described feeling embarrassed and scared to answer their phone or door. Others lost chunks of their retirement money.

Mitchell said the fact that the scammers were motivated by greed, preying on elderly people with health issues, fixed incomes and a desire to help is “despicable behaviour.”