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Housing market drawing shady operators



Jesse Nelson was stoked at the prospect of having a place to live in Whistler for the Olympics.

But that was before he found out the place he wanted was just a front for a Nigerian fraudster already implicated in a puppy-fraud scheme.

Nelson, a self-titled “Office Ninja” with Whistler’s Camp of Champions, first came to the community in October to do a work term while studying ski resort operations and management at Selkirk College in Nelson, B.C.

“It’s the place to be for the industry,” he said of Whistler. “I just had to come out and find out for myself and I fell in love with this place.”

Before starting a work term as a snowmaker for Whistler-Blackcomb, Nelson and a lifelong friend didn’t want to live in staff housing. They spent two months looking for accommodation prior to moving to Whistler and soon discovered the perils of finding a place to live in the community.

“We were looking for big or small places, shared or single rooms,” he said. “When it came down to it, it was just too close to moving day and I had to go into staff housing.”

Nelson lived there until January, later moving into a shared room with a friend in the Whistler Cay neighbourhood. He’s now hoping to find something new before Sept. 1.

His search took him to the classified pages of Pique and the Whistler Question , but neither yielded the results he was looking for. It wasn’t until he went to the Craigslist website that he started making progress in his search for a new home.

“I was checking the daily classifieds on the Pique website every day, several times a day, same as Craigslist,” Nelson said. “I was checking it out probably every half hour that day.”

Eventually he landed upon a Craigslist posting for a three-bedroom suite, with bathrooms and utilities included, at Whistler Creek Lodge for $2,200 a month.

Thinking he had hit the jackpot, Nelson contacted the landlords right away. He soon got in touch with a man named Kim Craig, a self-described “Christian” who would be away in Nigeria for two years to complete some missionary work.

After exchanging a few e-mails, the owner directed all contact to his wife, Lane Cheryl Craig, a woman who lived in Miami. The owners were willing to lease the home for two years, an agreement that would give Nelson a home through the Olympics.

“I thought, wow, that's really cool, a place for the Olympics,” he said. “I think everybody in Whistler is worried about accommodation during the Olympics.”

After going through a screening process via e-mail, the home was offered to Nelson and a friend. He agreed to a lease to the end of April 2009, with an option to negotiate to the end of April 2010.

But there was one problem — he was told the keys were in Miami and no one was in Whistler to show him the suite. Nelson was told he’d get the keys and lease documents only after paying for one month’s rent.

The owners would only accept payment via a Western Union money gram sent to Lucas Y. Adeyemo, Kim Craig’s assistant in Sango Ota, Nigeria.

It was here that things started getting murky.

“The more communication that there was between us, the more skeptical I was about the situation,” Nelson said.

When he contacted Kim Craig in Nigeria he said he was not comfortable with sending money to his assistant. He was thereafter directed to talk to his lawyer, a man named Richardson Moller, in the UK.  

“Everybody was spaced all over the world and it was just sounding worse each time I was talking to them,” he said.

It wasn’t until the week of Aug. 4, a week after first making contact with the owners, that he got Lane Craig’s phone number in Miami. He phoned her once and she said that she was having difficulty receiving international calls.

He then called her again and said, “Hi, this is Jesse from Whistler.” She hung up on him.

A Google search of Adeyemo’s name shows that a man of the same name, also from Nigeria, was implicated in a dog-selling scheme, according to an article in the Tri City Herald, a newspaper serving the Kennewick, Pasco and Richland communities in Washington state.

The article states that Adeyemo had offered up an 11-year-old English bulldog for free in a classified listing, but later asked for $300 to pay for shipping to the nearest airport.

On Aug. 8, Nelson received an e-mail from Moller, Craig’s attorney, with a lease agreement enclosed. The document was written in green, red, blue and black fonts and asked for $2,200 up front as the first month’s rent and a “good sign of seriousness.”

Nelson provided Moller’s phone number to Pique . When contacted at the number that was provided and asked if he was Richardson Moller, the person on the other end of the line hung up.

Nelson also provided Lane Craig’s number in Miami. When asked to hand the phone to Lane Cheryl Craig, the person on the other end of the line said, “No, you have the wrong number” and hung up. She did this again when contacted by Pique a second time.

Nelson has filed a police report with the Whistler RCMP but doesn’t expect much to come of it because he hasn’t put any payment through to the Craigs or to Adeyemo.

Staff Sergeant Steve Leclair with the Whistler RCMP said there’s plenty that officers can do to investigate instances of rental fraud, though he said it’s often a question of money.

“If it’s a widespread-type fraud, if somebody is benefiting in Canada, we’d certainly go after the Canadian party,” he said. “But if it’s somebody in another country, we’d have to weigh the public interest.

“We’re not going to spend $100,000 on an international investigation of a $2,200 theft in Canada.”

Leclair added that, being a Whistler resident himself, he is personally aware of the community’s rental market and has heard “anecdotally” about rental fraud. But he also said that he exercises caution when renting and asks others to do the same.