Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Jail time sought for unlicensed ex-stock trader

But his lawyer rips 'sledgehammer'

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Provincial securities regulators want a former stock trader to spend 18 months in jail for taking more than $540,000 from people in transactions he wasn't licensed to perform.

It's a punishment request akin to "using a sledgehammer to take care of an ant," given the unusual facts of the case, the man's lawyer says.

James Peter Yaworski previously pleaded guilty to 12 counts under the Manitoba Securities Act for trading without a licence.

The 54-year-old appeared for sentencing in provincial court Wednesday in front of Judge Tim Killeen.

Between 2004 and late 2010, Yaworski took $544,875 in payment from Manitobans he says approached him to buy stock in the Alberta-based software-development company for which he once worked, Shopplex.com Corp.

Yaworski had no Manitoba licence to trade shares and was also barred from doing so around the start of his offending under the provisions of a three-year no-trade order previously handed to him by Alberta officials, Manitoba Securities Commission (MSC) lawyer Kimberly Laycock said.

Laycock said occasions were uncovered in which Yaworski deposited money investors had given him, and he quickly used it to pay loans, credit cards and make purchases at a casino.

Also, Laycock said, in most cases it took between one and seven years for investors to get their shares, with some only receiving them in 2012 after Yaworski and the company reached a settlement agreement.

Where the case takes an odd turn is in how Yaworski maintains the shares he sold were actually his own property -- part of his compensation for working at Shopplex.

The company was once seen as a "hot item" with great prospects for profits in the IT world, as it won a patent-lawsuit settlement of about $100 million against major U.S. tech companies, defence lawyer Tim Fry said. Its board featured prominent Albertans such as former premier Ralph Klein, court heard.

The company pressed on with additional lawsuits.

That decision led, however, to its patent being invalidated in the U.S., and it took a major financial hit.

Today, the business and its shares have essentially no value for more than 1,300 current stockholders, Killeen was told.

While this was going on, Yaworski and the company had a dispute over shares it owed him -- shares Yaworksi had sold to people who were entitled to have them, said Fry.

That matter didn't get settled until May 2012 and the investors were placed on the company's books.

"Mr. Yaworski did not cause these losses. And that needs to be clear," said Fry. "The investments in Shopplex were not hopeless by any stretch of the word," Fry said.

"The scenario with Mr. Yaworksi is not predatory in any sense of the word."

The sentencing hearing concluded with Laycock telling Killeen the MSC didn't agree with much of Yaworski's version, including his claim that investors approached him.

Killeen adjourned the hearing to later in May. It's possible the MSC may now call evidence to establish certain facts.

james.turner@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 1, 2014 A6

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