Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Jorgenson defends ex-con

'Everyone deserves a second chance'

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It was last Saturday afternoon when the warning arrived via cellphone.

A fellow journalist had made the extraordinary effort of calling to caution me about the main character in my column that day.

The story centred on a bun fight of sorts.

Over a busy lunch hour, Ray Rybachuk, the co-owner of the Royal Albert Arms, flipped out and fired the hotel restaurant's entire shift -- the chef, the line cook and the only server -- after he objected to his hamburger bun being grilled, and the chef objected to Rybachuk telling him how to serve his food. The column went on to allude to why Rybachuk might not like to be challenged, even over a grilled bun. Between 1994 and as recently as 2006 he was convicted of assault, mischief, narcotic trafficking, money laundering and obstruction of justice.

He's one dangerous dude, my media friend advised over the phone. Be careful of Ray Rybachuk.

So it was that six days later, I cold-called Rybachuk.

He was at his second-floor office in the century-old Royal Albert Arms that he now co-owns with former Internet pharmacist Daren Jorgenson. Actually, I was hoping to find Jorgenson, and his business partner happened to be there.

Rybachuk, looking larger than life, was dressed in black and seated behind the only desk, writing in what looked like a ledger. Jorgenson, was wearing a windbreaker with a small Winnipeg Jets logo over his heart, and lounging on a black leather loveseat.

The two of them seemed to think I had dropped by to talk about how they had barred one of my colleagues from the hotel and gone as far as creating a T-shirt with his mug on it that said so.

Jorgenson took credit for what he saw as a comical hit, because of a column that had been written the day after mine about the pair's relationship.

I told them that's not why I was there.

What I wanted to know was if Jorgenson knew about Rybachuk's background and, if he knew, why he would get involved with a guy whose past includes a conviction for money laundering. And so, with Rybachuk sitting there listening, I asked those questions. Turns out he did know about Rybachuk's criminal past when he partnered in property that Jorgenson said he paid $900,000 for six years ago.

When they met a couple of years ago, Jorgenson saw him as a likeable guy with a great knowledge of construction and building matters. Both were in the health-clinic and pharmacy business and Jorgenson offered him some free advice.

At the time, Rybachuk was in a partnership with three other people at the Boyd Medical Clinic.

"So I called up the Boyd Medical Clinic and asked to speak to Ray," Jorgenson told me Friday, "and that is how I met Ray. I did not know his past at that time but I for sure did one year ago when I sold him a 50 per cent interest in the Albert Street buildings. But I trusted him and I had confidence in him and I saw no criminal activity, so why shouldn't I work with Ray?"

It was also two years ago this month that a pipe burst and flooded the hotel basement and Rybachuk offered to help rebuild. That sweat equity would become a down payment of sorts on their partnership in the Royal Albert and 52 Albert, the building next door.

It was over coffee last spring, Jorgenson said, Rybachuk asked what his plans were for the two buildings and Jorgenson told him he wanted a partner.

On Friday, Jorgenson said, no money exchanged hands then. The deal was done on a demand mortgage basis, which means Jorgenson could demand payment in 30 days. More recently, since the buildings have climbed in value, Jorgenson said they've taken out a mortgage and Rybachuk has paid him some money.

Which is why, Jorgenson said, he knows there's no laundered money in the building.

"Everyone has to be on the same page if you're running a money laundering (scheme)," Jorgenson said as Rybachuk listened.

In an email last week, Jorgenson also said this: "I know people ask why I was open to doing business with an ex-con and all I can tell you is that I believe everyone deserves a second chance in life and that everyone can change. I have worked with Ray for a year now and have never seen any glimpse of any criminal activity."

Jorgenson also told me there are several prominent, respected and wealthy Winnipeg businessmen who also do business with Ray Rybachuk.

And, as if to prove it, Rybachuk called one of them while I was there and put him on the speaker.

I recognized the voice and said hello to him.

Apparently, the multimillionaire businessman I see regularly at charity functions didn't want to speak with me.

"You shouldn't use people's pasts to try and ruin their future," was Jorgenson's bottom line.

I agree.

But sometimes there's a thin line separating trust from naïveté. And one's past from one's future.

I hope, for Daren Jorgenson's sake, that his trust is rewarded.

Consider this my own warning call to you, Daren.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 4, 2013 B1


Updated on Saturday, May 4, 2013 at 11:18 AM CDT: Edited

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