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Bold mom gets a hearing
'Could you spare us 15 minutes?" ex-client of Thow asks head of Berkshire parent firm

Andrew A. Duffy

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Kathy Olson saw the opening Wednesday night and took it.

The Victoria dental assistant and mother of three stepped up, hand outstretched, and introduced herself to Michael Lee-Chin, founder and chairman of AIC Ltd., parent of the Berkshire Group of Companies.

"Mr. Lee-Chin, my name is Kathy Olson I am an investor with Berkshire and one of Ian Thow's victims, could you spare us 15 minutes?" she asked.

Olson is one of a slew of investors and disgruntled Berkshire clients who claim former Berkshire senior investment adviser Ian Thow owes them millions.

Her bold move, made as Lee-Chin walked without comment past the media and into a welcoming meeting of AIC advisers, earned her and the handful of Thow creditors who turned up to the Laurel Point Inn to confront the Berkshire boss an immediate face-to-face conference.



Kathy Olson, a onetime client of former Berkshire investment adviser Ian Thow, meets Michael Anthony Lee-Chin, founder and chairman of AIC Ltd., parent of the Berkshire Group of Companies. "You know, I just thought 'what do I have to lose,'" said Olson. So, how was Lee-Chin? "Charming," Olson said.

Photograph by : Bruce Stotesbury, Times Colonist

The Thow creditors say Berkshire's head office has refused to meet with them or discuss their cases since Thow left at the end of May. Thow was subsequently thrown into bankruptcy by his creditors in Canada and has also filed for bankruptcy in the U.S.

"You know, I just thought 'what do I have to lose,'" said Olson after the meeting with Lee-Chin. "We're all a little bit damaged at this point."

Lee-Chin, who went to his AIC banquet immediately after the meeting, did not speak with the media other than to suggest speaking with the Thow creditors would be more appropriate.

The Thow creditors, who have at times said they felt betrayed by both Thow and Berkshire, were cautious about allowing optimism to tinge their perspective on Wednesday's impromptu meeting.

"It's a start, [Lee-Chin] has promised he will be investigating all the cases and will get back to us to follow up," said Andrea Racicot, who says she has known Thow for more than 25 years. "We'll see if he comes through.

"[Lee-Chin] is very charming and he seemed genuinely concerned, but we have heard all that before," she said, noting it was Thow's charm that convinced her to trust him. "Having dealt with Ian and having trusted him and been burned by him that way, I am hesitant to trust people."

Olson echoed her concerns.

"It's all well and good for representatives of Berkshire to say they are here for us," she said. "The big problem has been the lack of approachability. This is the first time Michael Lee-Chin has even acknowledged to any of us that anything has been going on."

Evelyn Tennant, who claims to have lost $1.3 million in an investment scheme in the National Commercial Bank of Jamaica, reiterated the face-to-face meeting was a start for Thow creditors getting back some of their losses.

But she was still questioning why Berkshire didn't keep closer tabs on Thow, a senior vice-president.

"They should have had a better grasp of what he was doing," she said.

Olson said many of the Thow creditors have been told Berkshire's head office knew little of what was happening with regards to Thow, and in fact had no real grasp of the extent of the situation.

Olson and husband Pat, a firefighter, lost $100,000 through a short-term loan scheme Thow set up for them "We put a lot of faith in a man who us locals have known for years and years and years."

Racicot claims to have lost a few hundred thousand dollars. She said there's concern they may have to sell the family home.



Ian Thow takes flight