Nick John made it look easy: build ‘an empire’ in lotto and offshore markets by winning only jackpots of relatively small amounts, banking the prizes and investing in real estate. Photograph: yannick zapeau/AP
Nick John made it look easy: build ‘an empire’ in lotto and offshore markets by winning only jackpots of relatively small amounts, banking the prizes and investing in real estate. He even outgrew the movement he started as a humble RBC Dominion Securities financial adviser in North Bay, Ont, in the 1970s, steadily moving up the ranks to become president of John Hancock Investments, a $500m Toronto-based investment firm started by John in 1994.
“We were literally holding the winning tickets,” says Doug Bishop, a former John Hancock employee who was among the senior managers charged in connection with the fraud and wire fraud scheme. “He’d just be looking at his banking table or some other shiny object and literally pull a lever and the number would start to go up – like a roll of dominoes.”
After winning more than $4m from six lottery jackpots, John became one of the world’s biggest winners of lottery prizes over $50,000, but maintained his “characteristically equivocal” relations with the Canadian government. His return to the lottery world this year was not without troubles, with a major Ontario-based company with ties to the John Hancock Financial Advisory Group pulling its sponsorship of the 13th Major Midget Hockey League. In a statement it said it was withdrawing its sponsorship “due to ethical and reputational reasons”, but cited a “financial sponsorship” for the longer term.
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, John worked at RBC as an assistant financial adviser, and became the Ontario division president of John Hancock Financial Planning Services in 1985.
And so began a staggering con, in which John concocted a story – later denied – that he had died from a heart attack after flying home to visit his mother on Christmas Day, 1979. In 1981, John and his then partner purchased and remodeled a house in Hamilton, Ont., then began asking clients for cash in order to buy more properties. By 1985, John was overseeing $100m in investments.
Then came the 2003 lottery win. Not a $50,000 jackpot, but a $20m jackpot, one that John took time to develop. At John Hancock, he was known as “an incredible salesperson”, Bishop says. “The trick, I guess, was putting in a lot of hard work, but also putting in a little fluff in there, selling to people on their drive.” It worked.
John founded John Hancock Investments in 1994, with Bishop. Photograph: Tony Clement/AFP/Getty Images
But the story stopped there. Just before he left John Hancock Financial, John made sure he landed in a city where real estate was booming – Florida.
There, John pursued various businesses as well, investing in hotels, flipping apartments, buying and developing land, even buying jewellery and launching what John believed was a progressive jewellery line. When it was clear that no one really cared about what John called his “dream jewelry”, he became a big winner in the lotto.
John’s total winnings from all the lotto jackpots is $18m, according to court documents. However, court documents show that many of his clients, as well as multiple companies, were left out of pocket by his fraud, leaving clients with nothing at all.
So where did John go after all this? Millions in unexplained cash, according to court records, including a US$20m payment to an Australian woman who had provided him with financial advice. The records also show that the man who John bought a massive mansion in 2008 for $8.7m is the son of a top Saudi accountant, according to the local newspaper the Hamilton Spectator. And a Montana millionaire who invested in John Hancock’s Bermuda shell company was “quickly made whole”, according to the Spectator.
Even the person who filmed John’s final death talked about how happy he appeared after all the money won.