Arnold Donszelmann courts conflict. His accusers accede the 54-year-old a architect and bland anchorperson who’s consistently on to the aing scheme. His business enterprises over the years accept ranged from eggs to recreational cartage to modular homes and absolute estate.
Watch a video of Wetaskiwin County association Stan and Beryle Pledge talking about how they and abounding others were cheated by fraudster Arnold Donszelmann, who accustomed a seven year bastille book for his crimes. Video by Larry Wong, Edmonton Journal.
EDMONTON – Arnold Donszelmann courts conflict.
His accusers accede the 54-year-old a architect and bland anchorperson who’s consistently on to the aing scheme. His business enterprises over the years accept ranged from eggs to recreational cartage to modular homes and absolute estate.
In July, Donszelmann was bedevilled to seven years in bastille for Alberta’s better anytime RV artifice scheme, accounted a $2.3-million “shell game” by Amends Terry Clackson. Dozens of victims say they fell casualty to his cons.
Donszelmann denies profiting from his deals with seniors and adolescent families. Alike the courts saw him as a man who fell into banking trouble, afresh looked for shortcuts aback he couldn’t escape.
From the start, however, Donszelmann appears to accept been a bent administrator accommodating to affront assemblage and regulation.
Which came aboriginal …
Arnold Donszelmann’s war with the Alberta Egg Producers Lath didn’t end well.
Inspectors accustomed at his acreage a Millet, south of Edmonton, in backward 1995. He was in corruption of bigoted laws apropos chickens and eggs, they said.
Rural Albertans can accumulate 300 hens afterwards licence or quota; Donszelmann had 5,923. A authoritative adjustment in March 1996 appropriate all but 300 be removed, an adjustment restated two months afterwards aback addition appointment begin 3,440 leghorns in the barn.
Donszelmann fought the lath in cloister in the years to follow. He said the access notices didn’t administer to his new company, Alberta Poultry Sales. He insisted he endemic abandoned 300 hens. Aback 1983, he’d been adopting chickens for his neighbours, relying on “custodian agreements”: for $600 a month, he fed and cared for anniversary client’s 300 non-quota chickens. They would accept eggs and a allocation of sales to restaurants and the Old Strathcona Farmers Market.
As the case inched forward, the countless of chickens grew. By July 1999, his army was 16,164-strong, able of bearing 32,000 dozen eggs a month.
Justice Cecilia Johnstone assuredly put an end to the impasse in 2001. It didn’t absolutely amount who endemic the chickens, she ruled; they were in Donszelmann’s possession.
Near the end of the hearings, Canadian Food Inspection Agency inspectors abandoned Donszelmann’s acreage over doubtable salmonella. The eggs were accounted unfit for animal consumption. The chickens were ordered destroyed.
Donszelmann had spent $40,000 that year abandoned on acknowledged fees, he said. He would afterwards be on the angle for attendant quotas and the AEPB’s acknowledged fees, too, tallied at almost $125,000. As the adjustment was boring agitated out, he fed his pigs the hundreds of eggs produced anniversary day.
“I still feel we were in the right,” he told The Western Producer. “We’re action to lay bottomward and die. It doesn’t pay to action this one anymore.”
Even afterwards accident his chickens, Donszelmann connected to acquire the acrimony of inspectors. At his Happy Hen Poultry Stand at the Edmonton market, he awash free-range turkeys and added acreage goods, but additionally became the aboriginal Albertan anytime fined for affairs basic milk.
And the aing year, he was hit with addition $2,000 accomplished for actionable egg sales.
Hell on wheels
Beryle Pledge takes a atramentous canvas attache with her whenever she leaves home. For the accomplished seven years, she’s ferreted abroad kilograms of acknowledged files, buying abstracts and affirmation — aggregate she’s got on the RV salesman who took abroad her retirement security.
The 59-year-old is the de facto backer for an black accumulation whose ranks accommodate a action coach, a boondocks administrator and a government researcher. Some are too ashamed to about accede their stories. But Pledge is able-bodied aloft shame.
“I’ll accumulate beaking my aperture until I’m annoyed it’s absolutely over,” she says.
Beryle and her bedmate Stan abandoned capital a baby bivouac for camping trips. Afterwards audition a CFCW radio ad in backward 2004, they chock-full in at Leisure RV Rentals, a few kilometres west of Millet on Highway 616. It was abandoned a few kilometres from their acreage.
The sales appointment was a baby berth amid a farmhouse and the old craven barn. Donszelmann’s sales angle meandered to his administration advance program. If the Pledges bought a motorhome and larboard it with him, his aggregation would pay them a affirmed rental rate. Leisure RV would covering maintenance, accumulator and insurance.
Stan had afresh had a affection advance and didn’t apperceive how connected he could work. Donszelmann showed them that if they bought two RVs, they could accomplish about $3,000 a ages renting the cartage out during aiguille season. On April 26, 2005, the Pledges plunked bottomward $69,900 for anniversary of two acclimated 2003 28-foot Triple E Regals.
It was an advance in their future.
As Donszelmann told an Edmonton Sun anchorman in August 2007, the administration affairs grew his Leisure RV Rental agile to over 100 recreational vehicles.
The attraction was simple. “Owners never get a bill for an oil change,” he said. “Cabinets and accessories in the autogenous are consistently taken affliction of.”
Investors would acquaint a altered story. By that time, the Pledges were no best accepting affirmed payments. Cheques had been backward before, but Donszelmann was acceptable added difficult to reach.
Vehicle sales and adjustment abatement beneath the watch of the Alberta Motor Agent Industry Council. In 2005, Donszelmann was issued a retail, broad and agent licence. AMVIC heard its aboriginal complaints that summer. An RV was awash on assignment in July, but the buyer complained he didn’t accept his money. Donszelmann, who had been warned that he didn’t accept a assignment licence, was fined $6,000.
By aboriginal 2006, AMVIC additionally heard about backward rental payments, but it was a civilian amount not beneath their jurisdiction. Complaints about assignment sales continued. A accusation filed in 2007 claimed Donszelmann busy out three RVs he had agreed to advertise on account of a B.C. vendor, and additionally pocketed money for two added barter campers. Westcoast Mountain Band bedeviled the RVs and sued for damages. Donszelmann was begin in absence and ordered to pay $95,000.
The aboriginal artifice complaint came to AMVIC’s absorption on June 6, 2007. By that fall, complaints began cloudburst in. Donszelmann’s rental licence was advised by October, afresh annulled aback he didn’t appeal. A three-year analysis into dozens of complaints arise the better artifice in AMVIC history.
Investigators scoured annal and conducted dozens of interviews. Abounding of the RVs he’d awash were never paid for.
When the Pledges accustomed at the Donszelmann farmhouse on Nov. 24, 2007, they were greeted by an bankrupt assurance and acknowledgment workers removing appurtenances from the acreage buildings. Donszelmann’s wife let the brace inside, but said Arnold wasn’t home. Concerned their motorhomes would be seized, the Pledges banned to leave until Donszelmann came back.
Later, he absolved them to the aback of his acreage area their motorhome had been parked. Chrome hubcaps, batteries, covering and bake were missing, and thermostat and temperature controls were additionally pulled out, abrogation holes in the walls.
Their RV had allegedly been bare for added units. It would booty about $10,000 to adjustment it.
Their additional assemblage — identical afar from autogenous colour — was still out on the west coast, Donszelmann said. He’d alarm them aback it came back. The aing day, the Pledges told him Stan would fly out and alone aces it up, visiting ancestors on the way back.
Donszelmann accepted the RV was gone. He promised to fix the damaged unit, and offered to accord them article of “greater value” if they didn’t go to badge about the second.
“We thought, ‘Oh, oh, oh. We’re hooped,’ ” Beryle Pledge says.
They went to the RCMP the aing day, advertent the added motorhome had been awash to addition else. They approved to stop coffer payments and were promptly sued. They took out a $50,000 band of acclaim to pay the debt. They’re still advantageous for the “ghost motorhome.”
Though they advised affairs the RV they got back, they captivated on because they would never get aback what they put in.
Lemont Smith best up the phone. It was the bank, allurement why his motorhome was for auction on a lot in Calgary. The Sherwood Park man was dumbfounded. He’d bought three motorhomes from Donszelmann, all credible phantoms, at an estimated accident of over $170,000. In his afterwards clutter to break afloat, Smith confused to Houston for college pay and lower amount of living. He absent his home and accumulation anyway.
Greg and Diane Butt capital to booty their six accouchement on summer vacations. A flyer in the mail offered one chargeless week’s use during aiguille season, and the Butts bought three RVs. They managed aloof one cruise — a memorable vacation to Mexico — afore Leisure RV collapsed, abrogation them with two damaged RVs and payments for a third. Amid part-time jobs, abutment from ancestors and the auction of their homes and vehicles, they’ve managed to scrape by.
Donszelmann recommended The 10 Secrets Revenue Canada Doesn’t Appetite You to Know, auspicious the ancestors to anatomy their own business and pay their accouchement salaries. They absent over $150,000. That doesn’t accommodate losses incurred aback liquidating their properties, or the $20,000 they had to pay aback their rental aggregation was promptly audited.
Like others, the Butts shrugged off their trepidations and disregarded signals. Donszelmann had brightened aback he abstruse Greg was a pastor, giving signals they were on the aforementioned team. But his evasiveness didn’t sit able-bodied with Diane.
Donszelmann was answerable a little over three years afterwards the collapse of Leisure RV. Two canicule afterwards his February 2011 arrest, he was slated to arise in an Edmonton attorneys on 97 counts of annexation and fraud.
A man stood up in cloister and said he wasn’t Donszelmann, abandoned there on his behalf.
The adjudicator couldn’t advance with a proxy, so he ordered a accreditation for Donszelmann’s arrest. The man absolved out, alternate a few account afterwards and articular himself to the cloister as Arnold Donszelmann.
Another three years anesthetized until Donszelmann’s case went to trial.
Nine weeks were bare to be blocked off to apprehend from 45 witnesses, analysis dozens of files and conduct several mini-trials on accommodation of evidence. The Crown went to absolute indictment, absence a diffuse basic trial. Donszelmann approved to accept the accuse tossed as an corruption of process. He accursed a assumption of lawyers. Ninety-seven accuse were whittled bottomward eventually to 49.
Other oddities apparent the case. A juror was absolved for bringing a knife to the courthouse. Bristles others were alone for assorted reasons, so Amends Clackson was afflicted to affair a attenuate emergency summons. Unsuspecting commuters on the Churchill Square LRT belvedere were aback angled up for lath duty.
The balloon was assuredly set in the Cloister of Queen’s Bench basement, a high-tech attorneys congenital for a massive assemblage balloon in the backward 1990s. Weeks into the trial, attorneys abstruse that assemblage cat-and-mouse to affirm could apprehend aggregate axial the courtroom, including the accommodation arguments.
Clackson alleged the adventure “embarrassing” and ordered transcripts scoured for attenuated evidence. About 20 bodies heard added testimony. Two key Crown assemblage had been abnormally affected, it was found, as were the words of 10 added witnesses. But Clackson disqualified it wasn’t abundant to account a mistrial. Instead, he instructed the lath how to edge about the evidence.
Apart from bond altitude — that he couldn’t advertise cartage for anyone added than ancestors — Donszelmann absolved out the aperture anniversary day, chargeless as the cloister case abject on.
The lath bedevilled Donszelmann on 31 counts of fraud, acquitted on addition 13 and couldn’t ability accord on four more. Afore his July 2014 sentencing, he was accustomed a adventitious to speak.
Crown prosecutors had alleged it a Ponzi scheme, but Donszelmann said Leisure RV grew too fast and spiralled out of control. He fabricated poor business decisions and assassin ancestors and accompany rather than able professionals. But his intentions, he said, were consistently true.
“Never malicious, artlessly ignorant,” Donszelmann said. “I hear, and absolutely accede the aching this has caused. For that, I am acutely sorry. I am ultimately responsible.”
Justice Clackson offered a altered interpretation. Afore handing bottomward a seven-year sentence, he said there wasn’t affidavit he began Leisure RV with artifice in his mind.
“While Mr. Donszelmann didn’t alpha out as a artifice artist, he accepted that role for a connected time and acquired a abundant accord of affliction to a abundant abounding people” Clackson said.
Clackson additionally begin it “plausible” that Donszelmann’s artifice was aloof a atrocious attack to bond out a accepted business that had collapsed on adamantine time, a “shell game” he connected “for a connected time as he pursued that arrogant hope.”
Clackson ordered amends of $2,376,365.22 to victims on all the convictions. Outside court, the Pledges were celebrating about the sentence, but captivated out little achievement for any money.
“If I get anything, 20 bucks, I’ll smile,” Stan Pledge said.
No home, candied home
On Sept. 30, 2010, Evan McDonald lay alive in bed, alert to his wife’s quiet sobs.
The McDonalds afraid they’d been had. It had been four months aback Evan handed over a $40,000 bottomward acquittal for a 2,300 square-foot modular home.
The retired Edmonton blaze investigator is a accustomed skeptic. Years ago, he spotted a woman at back-to-back fires, afresh chatted her up until badge could arrest her. An arson confidence and three-year bastille book came out of that hunch.
He and his wife, Arlene, aloft 10 accouchement of their own and afresh opened their home to afflicted teens, acceptable advance parents.
All West Homes promised a six-week turnaround for the Mcdonalds’ dream home. They had able their four-hectare lot in Clyde, about 80 kilometres arctic of Edmonton, by cloudburst a accurate slab. They awash their old abode and their four advance kids helped them box up afore the trucks brought their modular home.
Excuses started rolling in instead. The architect shut bottomward anniversary July, they were told; afresh they congenital the amiss house. In the weeks that followed, the bound was bankrupt for a holiday, a barter bankrupt down, a architect had been fired. Anniversary adjournment added hire costs and stress, but additionally a looming faculty article wasn’t right.
Since they weren’t accepting sleep, McDonald attempt out of bed and collection two hours to the Millet sales lot. By 5:30 a.m., he saw the appointment ablaze flick on. He absolved up and banged on the door.
“I anticipate this is a scam,” McDonald told Arnold Donszelmann.
McDonald threatened to go to the press, to get on a alike to appointment the Minnesota branch area his home was actuality built.
Donszelmann told McDonald he was a man of faith, built-in and aloft on this actual farm. Why would he bluff addition on his own land, area anyone could acquisition him?
Donszelmann congenital All West Homes aloof a ages afore Leisure RV’s licence was pulled. Within months, he’d adapted his aloft sales centre into a mobile-home allowance house. The McDonalds had no clue until they punched Donszelmann’s name into a chase engine, and were abashed by the claims about him.
In retrospect, McDonald says Donszelmann’s sales angle should accept aloft abundant red flags “to body a bouquet.” They hadn’t anytime apparent prices that low, admitting Donszelmann had no appearance models and boasted about low overheads. He additionally accidentally mentioned, with no guarantees, that his American architect had never answerable him GST.
Had he not confronted Donszelmann, McDonald is assertive he wouldn’t accept got annihilation at all. Architect adjustment forms appearance Donszelmann didn’t adjustment the home until three canicule afterwards the showdown.
Truck crews accustomed at the McDonalds’ on a albino December night and anon got ashore in a drift. The abode was the amiss model; $20,000 account of upgrades were missing. Shingles had absolute off during the cruise and were agilely tacked over with tarpaper.
An amateur aggregation larboard pipes unglued and a six-inch gap on the roof ridge, creating leaks from top to bottom. Donszelmann connected to ask for added money to accumulate renovations rolling.
Donszelmann was eventually answerable for affairs a modular home afterwards a licence. Afterwards he promised to pay $4,000, accuse of declining to alive up to a arrangement and apery a aggregation he didn’t assignment for were dropped.
Evan and Arlene McDonald abounding the Leisure RV balloon aloof to appearance their faces.
Following the money
Victims of Leisure RV were agnostic of anytime accepting their money back. Belief and rumours broadcast about Donszelmann and the money. Acknowledged abstracts from added cases gave them pause. There was the camp egg saga. In a accusation amid a coffer and a Leisure RV investor, a authoritative administrator had acclaimed that “the anticipation of accretion (from Donszelmann) doesn’t attending good.”
Donszelmann appeared to accept a adroitness for accumulation companies, afresh absolution them lapse, which gave investors the action he had created a abode of cards. In the case involving Evan and Arlene McDonald, Donszelmann was initially answerable with assuming to represent a aggregation he didn’t assignment for, although that allegation was alone because of the address deal. The accuracy was absolutely added complicated.
The McDonalds initially addled their accord with All West Homes, a aggregation endemic by Donszelmann that was addled from bigoted annal in March 2010. Two months later, a analogously called All Western Homes and Development was congenital with the exact aforementioned Millet abode and column appointment box number, beneath a altered owner. On the surface, it seemed, annihilation had changed.
By the time of Donszelmann’s conviction, abundant added lawsuits, liens and judgments were on the books. Donszelmann had been through a gauntlet of receivership and cloister orders. He had never alike accomplished advantageous off the egg producers board.
Clackson acclaimed that Donszelmann claims he never absent funds to his own purposes. While he oversaw the business, “there is bereft affirmation to appearance that he absent the funds to his claimed benefit.”
Despite the ruling, abounding of Donszelmann’s victims abide assertive their loans went into absolute acreage backing amid Edmonton and Red Deer. The Pledges weren’t the abandoned ones who affirmation Donszelmann offered article for befitting quiet. A Lacombe man claimed that afterwards he abstruse his two RVs didn’t accord to him, Donszelmann took abstracts out of his desk, alms him a Leduc home endemic by his stepson.
In the after-effects of Leisure RV’s collapse, Beryle Pledge abstruse her accommodation was about identical to a bottomward acquittal placed on a Millet home. And she connected to see Donszelmann’s cardinal in Wetaskiwin and Leduc newspapers, announcement rental and auction backdrop throughout axial Alberta.
The Pledges were allotment of a $4.6-million chic action clothing adjoin Arnold Donszelmann, a case that sputtered in 2013 aback the cash-strapped litigants accomplished they had little to appearance for bags in acknowledged fees. It was never activated in court.
It’s not over yet
Four canicule afterwards sentencing, Donszelmann appealed the Leisure RV decision. He additionally activated for a authoritative absolution during the delay to be heard to Alberta’s accomplished court.
Releases are about accepted for acreage crimes, but Amends Jack Watson disqualified Donszelmann no best could appear and go beneath the anticipation of innocence, accustomed his record. Afore his abode is heard, Donszelmann will acceptable face addition balloon over a banknote altercation amid October 2007 and March 2011.
“This was not a one-out, one-off affectionate of event,” Watson said. “One is larboard with the consequence that Mr. Donszelmann reflects rather a accident to association in agreement of his inclinations against action of this kind.”
Donszelmann’s victims still buck burdens aloft and aloft their investments: acknowledged costs, losses in asleep assets and the abasement of starting again.
The McDonalds are currently wintering in Yuma, Ariz., but spent the accomplished summer in a baby berth adverse their aloft dream home. It amount them $100,000 to fix it up. They debris to alive there, accept awash it and now plan to body addition abode several kilometres away. They never absence a adventitious to acquaint bodies about Donszelmann.
Greg Butt wants amends and truth, but not at any cost. Action is too abbreviate and he doesn’t appetite anyone, abundant beneath Donszelmann, annexation him of joy.
“I absolve him as a person. I adjure for him,” Butt says. “Sure, he prospered for a while, but it consistently comes out.”
Beryle Pledge still takes her attache to her authoritative job with Leduc County. Afterwards Donszelmann was sentenced, the Pledges took their aboriginal anniversary in seven years, a two-week adventure in their old Triple E Regal. They headed to Beryle’s sister’s beach cabin, visiting ancestors for two weeks.
“He went to bastille on Friday, we larboard actuality on Monday,” Pledge says.
She and Stan had planned on architecture a new home for their retirement. They still alive in their old adaptable home, which Beryle describes as a “1978 tin can.”
But at the aback of their two-hectare, hand-cleared acreage, Stan congenital a baby cabin. It’s a vacation atom a few metres away. One day, she’d like to booty her attache and bandy it into the firepit.
She can’t bake it aloof yet. Pending Donszelmann’s appeal, the Pledges will accept to action for the $87,000 awarded during sentencing.
It’s been a backbreaking fight, Pledge says, and bodies hardly accept what it’s like to be a victim. Her mother died in January, her better adherent who consistently told her to not accord up. “You’re my fighter,” she would acquaint her. “You will win. You will win.”
It’s not over yet, but Pledge already has her answer.
“It would be nice aloof to say, ‘Mom, I won. Seven years, and I won.’”
Inside the carapace game
A carapace d and a corruption of trust. That’s how Amends Terry Clackson characterized Arnold Donszelmann’s artifice with Leisure RV.
The frauds were disconnected by Amends Terry Clackson into two categories.
Donszelmann awash RVs he didn’t own, afresh acclimated the money for added purposes.
– Vehicles: Agent Identification Numbers (VINs) of unsold RVs were acquired from banker amount lists.
– Loans: Loans were about abiding by Donszelmann himself. Barter active claimed accommodation applications through banks.
What happened instead:
Money to buy a motorhome was absent to Donszelmann. Abounding victims accept their money went into a array of backdrop endemic and controlled by Donszelmann, his accompany and family. But Clackson said there wasn’t acceptable affirmation of that.
Donszelmann’s advance affairs declared to put RVs into the aggregation rental pool, offsetting chump loans through affirmed payments.
– Vehicles: Donszelmann had abundant RVs in his rental basin that he was able to accommodate alternatives if his investors capital to use their vehicle.
– Payments: Barter would accept bristles anniversary payments.
What happened instead:
The affairs was a coverup, aback best motorhomes hadn’t been bought. Rental payments were made, but were generally late. By backward 2006, Donszelmann began to accomplish some payments personally. By 2007, payments slowed or stopped. The rental affairs prevented barter from advertent the cachet of their acquirement and acting to fix it.
Other: Donszelmann was additionally begin accusable of not advantageous off liens during trade-ins and declining to pay an buyer for a assemblage awash on consignment. He was acquitted on counts involving banking institutions, which aloft questions of whether the banks were actively defrauded or acquiesced to the loans.
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