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Police arrest lawyer in alleged North York condo scam

Toronto police are investigating after Centrust Development Group allegedly left town with the buyers' deposit totalling $12 million. CITYNEWS

Toronto Police have arrested the lawyer who represented a North York condo developer who allegedly skipped town with as much as $15 million of condo buyers’ down payments.

The development follows a CityNews story on Friday about Centrust Development Group, which sold pre-construction units in 2010 to 141 people for two towers at 5220 and 5254 Yonge St., south of Finch Avenue. Individual deposits ranged anywhere from $40,000 to $700,000 for residential and commercial units. But this summer, the buyers learned their money is missing and Centrust is nowhere to be found.

Meerai Cho, 63, was the Toronto real estate lawyer in charge of the deposits. Investors were told she prematurely sent the money to the developer Joseph Lee of Centrust. Cho was arrested Tuesday morning and made a court appearance on multiple charges, including 25 counts of fraud over $5,000, 25 counts of possession of stolen goods and 25 counts of breach of trust. She was released and as part of her release conditions she was required to surrender her passport.

Police say the development was doomed even before investors began hearing of bankruptcy filings. In June 2013, the land was sold in a power of sale, meaning Centrust wasn’t keeping up with the mortgage payments. Cho has since declared bankruptcy and both police and investors fear the money has left the country.

Toronto police estimate the investor losses could be $12.4 million while the Law Society of Upper Canada says they could be $14.9 million.

On Tuesday, the Law Society of Upper Canada also suspended Cho from practicing law on a temporary basis. She declined to comment.

Law Society of Upper Canada order

“There is reasonable grounds to believe that Meerai Cho has mishandled and lost approximately $14.9 million in deposit monies paid to her, in trust, by or on behalf of purchasers of condominium units in Centrium condominium project in North York by improperly paying those monies to her client,” the motion stated.

The law society further stated that “there is significant risk” to the public if an order to suspend or restrict Cho’s licence to practise isn’t made.

Cho is scheduled to appear in court again on Oct. 2.