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Sunday, July 8, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Bank robbery suspect turns to stock scam?

The Vancouver Sun

For the past several months, former U.S. Army Ranger Luke Sommer, who is wanted in Washington for an armed bank robbery in Tacoma last year, has apparently collaborated with another international fugitive to promote essentially worthless penny-stock deals while under house arrest in British Columbia.

In information Sommer left behind when he fled house arrest last month, he says he helped Rakesh Saxena, wanted in Thailand in a bank fraud, with stock deals quoted on the OTC Bulletin Board in the United States.

The OTC Bulletin Board is a sort of minor-league stock market. Most stocks quoted on the Bulletin Board are small and thinly traded, making it easy for unscrupulous promoters to manipulate them.

Sommer, 21, worked from his mother's home in Peachland, B.C., where he was under house arrest pending extradition to the United States. He was scheduled for an extradition hearing Tuesday.

Saxena worked from his home in Richmond, B.C., where he is under 24-hour guard pending extradition to Thailand.

Sommer's relationship with Saxena came to an abrupt halt June 27 when Sommer suddenly went missing. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) have issued a warrant for his arrest, and the FBI is on the lookout in case Sommer decides to return to the U.S.

Before he fled, Sommer left a goodbye letter for the RCMP and a compact disc containing copies of dozens of e-mails he said were between him and Saxena concerning their penny-stock dealings.

In the RCMP tape, a copy of which was obtained by The Vancouver Sun, Sommer said he had also been dealing with an Indo-Canadian gang, which he claims plans to smuggle heroin into Canada from India.

Sommer also claimed he has been working as a police informant.

"I am in contact with a member of the RCMP on a regular basis as of this writing. Please inform him that as I hear of things that require his attention, I will find a way to contact him without putting me or innocent people in jeopardy."

In an apparent reference to his RCMP helpers, he writes: "To the ghost team: you guys were awesome to work with and I never broke my promise to you to keep your names out of the light. ... "

Commando bank raid

On Aug. 7, 2006, Sommer and several others stormed a Bank of America branch in Tacoma brandishing AK-47s and wearing commando-type clothing and body armor.

According to court documents, the robbery was carried out with "military-style precision." It took only two minutes and 21 seconds. No shots were fired and no one was hurt.

The group made off with $54,011.

Afterward, Sommer took an overnight bus to Canada and returned to Peachland, where his mother, Christel Davidsen, lives.

Despite the heavy weaponry, Sommer has been quoted saying he never intended to hurt anybody.

He told The Seattle Times in December that his motive was to gain notoriety that he could use to expose war crimes by U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Army says it has found no evidence to support his claims.

The U.S. government alleges that his motive was to raise funds to start a crime family to rival the Hells Angels for control of the drug trade in Kelowna, B.C.

To date, seven people have been charged in connection with the robbery, including five former Rangers based at Fort Lewis and two of Sommer's Canadian friends. All seven have pleaded guilty to some of the charges against them.

On Aug. 11, RCMP arrested Sommer at a grocery store in Westbank, B.C., and he was jailed pending extradition to the United States.

Bangkok embezzlement

Shortly after his arrest, Sommer was transferred to the North Fraser (B.C.) Pre-trial Centre pending the outcome of his extradition hearing. There he met Saxena.

Saxena, 55, is a native of India. In the early 1990s, he worked as treasury adviser to the Bangkok Bank of Commerce where he allegedly embezzled $88 million, then moved to British Columbia.

In 1996, he was arrested by the RCMP at the Chateau Whistler while lunching with Thai police officers. He was carrying a briefcase stuffed with $100,000 cash, which, he readily admitted, he intended to use to bribe the officers.

He was initially released on bail, but in January 1998, the RCMP re-arrested him after he allegedly obtained a phony passport and threatened a witness.

In June 1998, his lawyer persuaded then-judge Wally Oppal (now B.C.'s attorney general) to approve a novel form of house arrest: Saxena would stay at his luxury condo and pay for his own 24-hour security to ensure he didn't leave.

This left Saxena free to pursue his business dealings. In one instance, he began negotiating with a South African-based mercenary force to stage a counter-coup in Sierra Leone when a rebellion interfered with business ventures there. The plans were put on hold when word leaked out.

Saxena told reporters there was nothing in the terms of his bail that prevented him from engaging in counter-coups in Third World countries.

He also became involved in packaging and promoting companies that trade on the OTC Bulletin Board. From 2001 to 2003, according to court documents, he arranged for overseas boiler-room operators to sell shares of essentially worthless companies to investors, most located in the United Kingdom. Investors were told to send their money "in trust" to Martin & Associates, a Vancouver law firm.

According to a forensic report filed in B.C. Supreme Court, investors sent $18.4 million to the firm, most of which was distributed to third parties on Saxena's instructions. In many cases, investors did not get their shares. In others, investors received their shares only to discover they were not listed on any exchange or had virtually no value.

The two principals of the law firm were each suspended for 10 years by B.C. Law Society. Saxena was never charged by police or cited by any regulatory body.

By last August, Saxena had exhausted all his extradition appeals and his return to Thailand appeared imminent. Because he was now a flight risk, he was placed in custody at the North Fraser Pre-trial centre, where Sommer was being held.

Calls to reporter

In an interview Friday, Saxena said he referred Sommer to Vancouver lawyer Sean Hern, who helped Sommer get released on bail in September. The terms required him to stay on his mother's property in Peachland. While he was still in jail, Sommer began calling a freelance reporter in Peachland, Dave Preston.

When Sommer was released on bail, they began meeting in person.

When he fled custody, Sommer left Preston a copy of his goodbye letter and a copy of the CD containing his e-mail exchanges with Saxena. Preston gave The Sun access to those documents.

"Shell" companies

The e-mails relate mainly to Saxena's efforts to package and sell "shell" companies, which have no real assets, but most of the shares are controlled by insiders, which makes them good vehicles for stock promotions.

In one, a promoter tells Saxena he has a buyer for a shell. Saxena advises him that "outright fully compliant shells 95 per cent are in the $850,000 U.S. area. Two available for cash." ("Fully compliant" means the shells have met U.S. Securities and Exchange filing requirements, and "95 per cent" means that 95 percent of the stock is under the control of the insider group.)

In another e-mail, Saxena says, "Please coordinate with Kevan -- he is pulling off some big stuff, so you better start playing with the big boys and forget about your gangster buddies in North Vancouver."

"Kevan" is Kevan Garner, who, along with Vancouver lawyer Martin Chambers, was caught in a joint FBI-RCMP money-laundering sting in Florida in August 2002.

Garner has since finished his jail sentence and returned to Vancouver.

"I have done due diligence," Saxena told The Sun, referring to Garner. "I see no reason why he can't promote. Same with Elliott Sommer. His house arrest conditions don't stop him from doing anything at home." (Luke Sommer goes by Elliott, his middle name.)

E-mail marketing plan

Many of the e-mails relate to a company called American United Gold, a Bulletin Board company that Saxena is proposing to revive by dealing in new mineral assets. There is also reference to an e-mail marketing campaign that will send promotional messages to 20 million e-mail addresses.

Regulators in the U.S. and Canada are trying to stamp out such "spam" campaigns.

Saxena sent copies of all this correspondence to Sommer, as well as a list of European clients who bought stock from the boiler-room operators and sent their checks to Martin & Associates "in trust."

Although Saxena initially said Sommer helped with computer programming only, the e-mails show that Sommer was also involved in sourcing assets for the shell companies. There is also correspondence relating to the opening of an account in Panama in the name of Sommer's mother.

Saxena proposed to pay him for his work by depositing share certificates in this account, but according to Preston, neither Sommer nor his mother got any shares.

Informant claim

Preston said Sommer told him he was working as an RCMP informant, and that police had bought him a BlackBerry and a camera. He said Sommer also showed him e-mail exchanges with his main RCMP handler, who used the name "Lone Wolf."

Preston said he is not surprised that Sommer fled house arrest: "He was convinced that the assistant U.S. attorney in Washington would try to put him in jail for 30 years."

Asked whether he has any idea where Sommer is, he said: "None. I've thought about it a lot. It wouldn't surprise me if he is sitting on a beach in Miami, but he could just as well be in the lower mainland."

In his letter to police, Sommer insists he is no risk: "If you're wondering whether I am a danger to the public or not, rest assured, I have no intention of doing anything that will put people at risk, and if you find me, I will go quietly."

Information from The Seattle Times archives and from Seattle Times business reporter Drew DeSilver was used in this report.

dbaines@png.canwest.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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