Jordan Sandford (right) gave $55,000 to a friend to invest on the stock market. But little did he know the ‘broker’, Joshua Calvert (left) had a gambling addiction and the money would soon be gone. Photos / Andrew Warner / Supplied
A “broker” who took $60,000 from two friends promising he could double their money within 12 months trading stock market shares has admitted blowing the lot on sports betting and says gambling “ruined my life”.
In an extraordinary interview with the Herald, Auckland man Joshua Calvert confessed that he lost the money during 2021 and 2022 while sending his victims bogus monthly financial records tracking their supposed investment returns to make them believe they were getting rich.
The glowing but patently false investment statements appear to have worked, with one of the victims, Jordan Sandford, eventually handing over his life savings.
But little did he know there was no tech stock portfolio or bullish longer-term trades. In fact Calvert had a gambling addiction and was buying time in a bid to recoup his snowballing losses.
Speaking exclusively to the Herald, Calvert, 30, admitted he is not a registered financial service provider and said none of the money was ever invested in shares.
Instead he was spending his friends’ cash on an array of international sports betting sites, using a complicated spread system designed to hedge his losses and guarantee returns.
But when his system failed he began making bigger, more riskier punts in a desperate bid to win back the money and repay the investors.
“It was an awful, awful situation,” Calvert said. “It’s a dark time in terms of the decision-making I made.
“I wasn’t thinking methodically or logically. It was fight or flight. ‘What’s the next game? What can I bid on?’
“The last couple of weeks I was making ridiculous bets – thousands of dollars on some Malaysian league at 3 o’clock in the morning.
“I was beside myself with guilt and anxiety. At that point I was like, ‘I’m probably going to go to prison’.”
Calvert said he did not set out to deceive his friends and genuinely believed he could grow their money and make a profit before things crashed and burned.
“I wouldn’t call myself a scammer, but I would definitely say I’ve done something unforgivable. There’s no defence for what I did.”
Sandford is a 24-year-old family violence co-ordinator now living in Australia. He said he trusted Calvert, who he met through an Auckland church, and the scheme seemed legitimate as each deposit was documented with a signed loan contract, complete with penalty clauses should the broker default.
But things turned sour mid-last year when Sandford, who had by then sunk $55,000 into the scheme, became suspicious and demanded his money back.
By that time, the financial statements suggested Sandford’s investment had ballooned to $98,000. But Calvert, who claimed to have set himself up as a trader with numerous other “clients” on his books, began making excuses about why the money could not be paid out.
First, Calvert claimed the money had been frozen in a US trading account because he’d “communicated” with someone under suspicion of money laundering, correspondence viewed by the Herald shows.
Next, he was in hospital after suffering a medical episode and could not respond to attempts to reach him because he was under doctors’ orders to avoid stress.
As the situation became more fraught, Calvert told Sandford and his fellow investor, who contributed $5000, he was sorry for the delay, trying to obtain a personal loan from ASB, and raiding his KiwiSaver account to reimburse them in full.
The money never arrived.
“He said, ‘I’ve definitely got the money, you’ll definitely get paid back’, and kept stringing us along,” Sandford said.
“But there was no money left and he’d falsified everything.
“He sent us monthly statements that detailed what stocks he’d put the money into, including the very small amount of money he supposedly put into sports betting.
“I thought this would be a great way to have someone steward my money and make sure it was being looked after responsibly.
“But it turned out he was actually falsifying those accounts and gambling the funds from the beginning, which was a pretty bitter pill to swallow.”
Eventually, Sandford’s friend David Jansen – himself a corporate bond market trader – reviewed Calvert’s financial statements and smelled a rat.
Jansen told the Herald the statements were “bollocks”.
“It just made absolutely no sense on the bulls*** radar.”
Calvert had claimed the impressive investment returns he was supposedly generating came from a mix of trades on the US and New Zealand stock exchanges, augmented with his sports hedge bets.
But the apparent windfall profits described in the statements defied market trends, Jansen said.
“They were showing significant returns and this was over a period when the share market was reversing. It just didn’t look right.”
Jansen confronted Calvert by phone and says the former Vodafone worker confessed to the ruse.
He claimed Calvert said: “‘I’ll just tell you straight – none of those financial statements exist. I was just doing that to keep Jordan onside and buy myself time to sort everything out’. He was very upfront about it.
“He lost control and was doubling down on the sports betting and just couldn’t stop. He said in the end he was just doing hail marys and putting straight naked positions on, and trying to get their money back.”
After learning the money was gone, Sandford and Jansen approached Calvert’s parents in a bid to mediate and agree a repayment plan to stave off legal action.
However, Calvert was on a benefit and could only afford a nominal weekly repayment, which Sandford estimated would take 17 years to reimburse his losses.
The negotiation ended and Sandford contacted police in November.
In a statement, police said they’d received a report of alleged fraud and investigations were “ongoing”.
But after Calvert confirmed he had not been contacted by investigators, the Herald asked police what inquiries had occurred and why no one had tried to interview him four months on from Sandford’s complaint.
Police said they had nothing further to add.
Sandford and Jensen also alerted the Serious Fraud Office and Financial Markets Authority (FMA). However, both agencies declined to investigate. The FMA said the matter was outside its remit because no financial product or financial services were being offered.
Sandford said Calvert was extremely convincing, charismatic and “can certainly sell things”.
He described Calvert’s actions as “intentional, methodical deception”.
“He took everything.”
Sandford is now in debt to his family and said he was speaking publicly to warn other investors about potential risks.
“I literally gave him everything I’d saved since I started working, which was unwise but I felt that it was protected because of the contracts.
“It is embarrassing. There were lots of red flags when I look back on it. I just assumed, ‘Why would he do that to me, I grew up with him’.”
Calvert said he first started gambling about five years ago after getting hooked on the thrill of winning money during a horse race.
He had a “dummy” Plus500 trading account where he successfully traded stock using $20,000 of fake money, and thinks Sandford and his friend believed it was a legitimate trading account.
He never corrected them.
Calvert also claims his friends approached him about the investment opportunity and that he cautioned them about sinking all their money into the scheme and advised them to seek legal advice.
“I made a mistake with good intentions. I decided that stocks would be too risky and I thought I’d just keep making money with my sports betting.”
But when he lost a large amount on one bad bet, things began to snowball.
“Up until that point the hedging was working so I maintained the story that I was stock trading, although I never actually bought or sold any stocks.
“The original plan was risk-free in my mind. I’m not saying it was risk-free. I’ve learned from that. The risk-freeness was if it worked.”
Calvert said he’d been diagnosed with ADHD and had an addictive personality, which meant he was “constantly searching for a high”.
He believed this was linked to his problem gambling and that mental health issues contributed to the situation unravelling.
He said his “horrible” case reflected a broader problem with New Zealand’s gambling culture, and he hoped sharing his story would shine a light on the insidious addiction.
An FMA spokesman said the case appeared to be an “alleged fraud” and it was appropriate it was referred to police.
Anyone offering financial services to retail investors should be registered on the Financial Service Providers Register.
Investors could protect themselves by following some general tips:
- Ignore uninvited investment offers.
- Conduct thorough due diligence and ask lots of questions to understand what the investment offer is, who is managing it, how it is regulated and what recourse there might be.
- Use a licensed or registered financial service provider.
- Providers of a financial service in New Zealand are generally required to be publicly registered on the Financial Service Providers Register (FSPR).
- To register on the FSPR they must provide a physical address and may be subject to criminal checks.
- If they provide financial services to ‘retail clients’ (eg most ‘mum and dad’ investors), they are also required to be a member of a third party approved dispute resolution scheme.
- When dealing with a financial service provider, you should be able to find or be told the details of which dispute resolution scheme you can contact if something goes wrong
- For some investments (such as managed funds), providers might also need to be licensed by the FMA.
- Just because a provider is registered or licenced, it doesn’t mean they can do no wrong. Always conduct your own research and due diligence, and look out for the signs of a scam.
- Seek financial advice, especially if you have a large sum to invest.