Judging by his prolific Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn postings, John (a.k.a. Johny, a.k.a. FFA) Ferdinand Alexander Spangenberg sounds like one saintly entrepreneur – a wealthy philanthropist who made his millions and now just wants to make the world a better place.
His recent business ventures in Vancouver included raising private capital in geoTreasuries Clean Energy Ltd. to invest in renewable energy projects, and last year he started trying to raise money for GeoSteward International, a would-be non-profit organization dedicated to animal rights and welfare around the world.
But according to the BC Securities Commission (BCSC), about the only charity that Spangenberg has actually poured money into is himself.
According to the BCSC, Spangenberg bilked six young investors in B.C. of $170,000 through clean-energy investment schemes. The allegations against Spangenberg have not been proven in court. They will be the subject of BCSC hearings slated for April 14.
Spangenberg moved to B.C. in 2009, according to the BCSC. In 2010, he incorporated Vancouver Green Capital Ventures Inc., which changed its name to geoTreasuries Clean Energy Ltd. in 2011. The company was dissolved in April 2014 for failing to file a prospectus.
In the meantime, between June 2011 and December 2013, he raised $170,000 from six B.C. residents who bought shares in geoTreasuries and Odyssey Renewable Growth Inc., neither of which were registered under the Securities Act.
Roughly $160,000 of the trades did not qualify for an exemption from filing a prospectus, which made them illegal trades, according to the notice of hearing.
The BCSC says Spangenberg lied about his wealth and background. Among his claims – still posted on his LinkedIn profile – is that he attended Harvard Business School.
The school’s registrar says there is no record of him attending any of its graduate programs. He also made false claims to have an office in downtown Vancouver at the World Trade Centre.
Spangenberg appears to have targeted young investors, posing as a wealthy mentor who claimed he would not take a salary for running the companies he was founding. But it was the investors who ended up working for nothing.
Spangenberg promised them positions in the companies they invested in, and they worked for “hundreds of hours” as interns without being paid, the BCSC said.
According to the commission, Spangenberg withdrew $110,000 in cash from his investment pools, gave his ex-wife $34,000 of investors’ funds and also spent $18,000 of investors’ money on liquor, groceries and hotels.
Some of the companies Spangenberg claimed to be raising capital through included: Clean Carbon Finance, Clean Energy Finance USA, One geoFinance, GT2 Climate Risk Bonds Inc. and GeoSteward Inc. Spangenberg allegedly forged documents, including legal bills and “a sham annual report.”
Although two of the companies he operated – Vancouver Green Capital Ventures and geoTreasuries Clean Energy Ltd. – are now defunct, the BCSC said it believed he was still operating in Vancouver as recently as June 2014.
In fact, in August 2014, Spangenberg began promoting a new scheme – this one aimed at animal welfare issues: GeoSteward International, which appears to have been promoted almost exclusively through LinkedIn, without much success.
He describes GeoSteward International as “a non-profit organization reporting on animal cruelty and ranking countries on an international animal welfare index.”
As BCSC spokesman Richard Gilhooley points out, a bit of Googling on the part of investors could have easily revealed that many of Spangenberg’s claims were false – like having an office at the World Trade Centre.
He also said investors should make sure that someone selling an investment is licensed to do so, and research the investment being proposed.
“If you don’t, and you want to proceed with the investment, you should get a third party to weigh in on the investment that doesn’t have any stake in the deal,” Gilhooley said.
Reached by email, Spangenberg did not dispute most of the allegations against him and admitted to “lying, cheating and making empty promises.”
He did so, he said, because he was “penniless.”
“Without unlawfully raising capital for my business, I was doomed to live on the streets of Vancouver with my homeless wife and children,” he said.
Spangenberg confirmed he is now living somewhere in Eastern Canada. Asked if he plans to attend any of the upcoming BCSC hearings, Spangenberg said he would, "provided my business trip (is) funded by the law enforcer and proper legal defense is provided."
In a 3,000-plus word letter to the BCSC, Spangenberg suggests the money the commission plans to spend on his case might be better spent mitigating the financial losses of the investors he bilked. •