SOUTH BEND — With his clerical collar and his familiarity with the University of Notre Dame as props, Berrien Springs resident Byron “Father Barney” Canada put on a convincing act and swindled nearly 100 would-be investors around the nation out of $3.5 million over five years.
Many of the victims of his up-front fees were religious institutions.
This was reportedly the fourth time that the 62-year-old Canada has been convicted of such a loan scam.
Court records cited in published reports this week
indicated that, in this recent swindle, Canada would give people the impression he had ties to Notre Dame as he guided people on tours of the university before taking them to lunch at a campus restaurant.
Canada, who lives along Old 31 in Berrien Springs, was sentenced Thursday in U.S. District Court in South Bend to 11 years and three months in prison, said Mary Hatton, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s office for northern Indiana in Hammond.
The sentence handed down by Judge Robert Miller Jr. included three years of supervised release, a $3,100 special assessment and $3.5 million in restitution, Hatton said.
Canada pleaded guilty March 11 to 24 counts involving wire fraud, mail fraud, money laundering and conspiracy. He had been on home detention since March before being remanded to custody Thursday.
Hatton said Canada maintained offices in downtown South Bend and operated under two business names, Trinity Trust and Providence Funding.
Canada’s religious affiliation, if any, is hazy. The South Bend Tribune cited court records as saying Canada was ordained in 2001 as a priest with a northern Indiana-based Native American Catholic diocese. Several Internet postings list him as affiliated with the Reformed Catholic Church, an independent Catholic sect. Some stories cast doubt on whether Canada is really a priest.
Canada’s scheme began in 2004 and continued into 2009. He and other alleged accomplices not yet charged told their victims they could provide loans and financing for various business, real estate and church projects, Hatton said. In fact, they had no way to secure the loans.
Hatton said Canada would solicit up-front payments of fees amounting anywhere from $5,000 to $225,000, telling his victims that part of their fees would be given to a church or another charity.
Canada ended up keeping the fees, and no financing or loans ever materialized as promised, she said.
The case was investigated by the Internal Revenue Service and the FBI and was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Donald Schmid.
Published reports this week said this is Canada’s fourth federal fraud conviction. He was reportedly convicted in another scheme involving advance fees in 1978 in U.S. District Court in Western Michigan and then later on similar scams in Massachusetts and West Virginia.
A Google search of “Father Barney Canada” uncovered several news articles about Canada’s dealings, including his involvement in the Trump Tower Tampa project in Florida up until 2008.
Articles in the St. Petersburg Times described Canada as “the Very Rev. Father Barney Canada” who promised to deliver on a $200 million loan to build the Trump Tower Tampa. He did not provide the loan after receiving $150,000 in advance fees.
A posting on truecrimereport.com from March listed Canada as number five on its “What Wouldn’t Jesus Do?” list of religion-related criminals.
“His scam is always the same – he lures folks in with his godly demeanor, asks for ‘application fee’ funds – ranging from $5,000 to $300,000 – up front, and then disappears without ever making good on his promise of a loan,” the Website said.
Both the truecrimereport.com and the St. Petersburg Times articles cast doubt on whether Canada is in fact a priest.
The Times described him as a “self-proclaimed clergyman,” and the truecrimereport.com said
he claimed to be an ordained priest of the Orthodox-Catholic Church, although no link could
be found to an actual parish.