A Canadian man who likened himself to Richard Gere from the popular movie “Pretty Woman” is under arrest after authorities accused him of operating a Ponzi scheme in which he targeted female investors on online dating websites or at local bars. Salim Damji, 45, was arrested on multiple charges, including fraud over $5,000, fraud over $5,000 public, laundering proceeds of crime, and false pretenses. An accomplice, Tatiana Krainova, 39, was also charged with fraud over $5,000, fraud over $5,000 public, and laundering proceeds of crime.
According to authorities, Damji would use online dating sites or visits to local watering holes to meet potential victims. After holding himself out to be a financial expert - and even engaging in relationships with several victims - Damji convinced multiple victims to invest with him with the promise of lucrative short-term returns. At least eight female investors were alleged to have entrusted at least $400,000 with Damji.
After one of the victims googled his name, they discovered that Damji had a lengthy series of run-ins with authorities that included a previous prison sentence for his involvement in a tooth-whitening fraud scheme that duped 4,000 victims out of approximately $77 million. In the early 2000s, Damji solicited investors though his company, Strategic Trading System, on the promise that they could become millionaires after Colgate-Palmolive bought his tooth-whitening invention for $400 million. Thousands of investors, including many Ismaili Muslims, suffered losses. After a judge refused to accept Damji’s contention that unnamed mobsters had forced him to carry out the fraud, he was sentenced to a six-year prison term. Following his release from prison, he was subsequently charged with check fraud. A website has even been established at Salimdamji.com for “victims of Salim Damji’s heartless fraud upon the members of his family, friends, and the Ismaili community.”
After Damji’s recent arrest, he described himself to Toronto detectives as “Richard Gere from the movie ‘Pretty Woman,’” confessing that he sought to emulate the lifestyle Gere’s character lived in the film.
Individuals with information are encouraged to contact Det. Ken Bardai with the York Regional Police Major Fraud Unit at 1-866-876-5423, ext. 6671, Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS, leave an anonymous tip online at www.1800222tips.com, or text your tip to CRIMES (274637) starting with the word YORK.