BHI Ponzi: Attorney Caitlin Gottschalk on Warriner’s betrayal of Ashcroft, the other trustee

Christian Ashcroft, the St Stithians old boy once blinded by admiration for SA’s version of Bernie Madoff, became ensnared in a devastating Ponzi scheme orchestrated by his one-time hero, Craig Warriner. Entrusting Warriner with his entire inheritance, Ashcroft was left grappling with feelings of betrayal when the truth was unveiled. As one of two trustees of the dubious BHI Trust, he sought legal guidance from attorney Caitlin Gottschalk, fearing potential liability and desperate to reclaim lost funds. This gripping saga unravels layers of deceit, exploring the fine line between trust and betrayal. Gottschalk spoke to BizNews editor Alec Hogg.

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An edited transcript of Alec Hogg’s interview with Caitlin Gottschalk of Gottschalk Attorneys, representing the second trustee of the BHI Traust, Christian Ashcroft.

Alec Hogg: This whole story has now drawn you in as well. Maybe explain to us how?

Caitlin Gottschalk: Thanks, Alec. Our client is Christian Ashcroft. He came to us in quite a state. He found himself in a situation where he was receiving so much information from so many different people. He was one of the original complainants regarding Mr. Warren. So he went and laid the complaint, and then he found out that Mr. Warren had admitted guilt and was not seeking any legal representation. Following that, the phone calls started bombarding Mr. Ashcroft. And that’s when he came to us. He didn’t really know what to do, so he came to us, and we’ve taken the matter from there.

Alec Hogg: So he’s one of the two trustees of the BHI Trust. I guess that’s why people want to know from him. Why did he become a trustee with this Warriner, who’s clearly a scoundrel?

Caitlin Gottschalk: I think the word “clearly” is a bit harsh in this context.

Alec Hogg: You think? He’s gone to jail; he’s taken billions from people. He tells the court, “just charge me with anything. I’m guilty. I don’t need a lawyer. I don’t want bail. Give me a cell on my own so they won’t kill me.”

Caitlin Gottschalk: OK, let’s say hindsight is 2020. I don’t think it was clear to all the victims at the time, surely not what was happening. Mr. Ashcroft grew up seeing Warriner as someone of influence and someone who does great things for his school and friends. Over time, as part of the alumni group, they socialized together. That relationship changed when Mr. Ashcroft started to work as a personal assistant to Warriner. And by personal assistant, I mean things like helping him train for the gym at 5 a.m. every morning, driving him around, making him food, and buying him groceries. That originally started with Mr. Ashcroft doing some essential handyman work at the house. So, Warriner was always someone very respected by Mr. Ashcroft.

For context, Mr. Ashcroft is a man of hands. He does physical labour. He holds a degree in sports psychology but is not a businessman. So he saw Warriner as his hero and someone he could trust and rely on, which was false. At one point, Warriner came to Mr. Ashcroft and explained that there was another trustee who had become too old to perform his function and asked if Mr. Ashcroft would mind being the other trustee. Mr. Ashcroft had no clue what this meant, but Warriner was his hero, his mentor. He believed it was a privilege that he had to do it.

What Warriner did is absolutely despicable. For context, our client has lost his entire inheritance. He had put all his inheritance with Warriner.

Alec Hogg: So, whatever his parents had left to him?

Caitlin Gottschalk: Correct.

Alec Hogg:: It’s a really terrible story. How does he feel now about this? His one-time hero?

Caitlin Gottschalk: He’s absolutely devastated. There’s a lot of anger and a lot of guilt. He often asks, “How did I not know? How did I not understand?” But that’s where we come back to the idea that hindsight is 2020. Now, having much more information and knowledge, we are guiding him through this process. He can see how things weren’t right in retrospect. But at the moment, he just couldn’t understand. And when your hero breaks your trust, it’s absolutely devastating.

Alec Hogg: Have you encountered the broking insurance operation Global and Local, which appears to have facilitated many of the recent funds flowing into Warriner’s Ponzi scheme?

Caitlin Gottschalk: Today was the first time. We also took a look at them. I had never seen them before, and I’m risk-averse by nature. It was shocking that any licensed FSP company would transact with someone like Warriner, but it seems multiple companies have done that.

Alec Hogg: Global and Local has popped up a few times in my investigations. The founder, a chap called Haldane, operated out of two homes on Barry Hertzog Road until relatively recently when he took over the old MetalBox building in Milpark, where he has the 17th and 18th floor and the penthouse. It gives the impression of a big organisation. But they’re deep into the middle-class communities with a thriving office in Lenasia and apparently were paid 5% commissions on the money they raised for Warriner.

Caitlin Gottschalk: It’s funny because we went and looked at that company’s website. They have that big building with banners on the outside. If you’re any sort of reputable institution and you’re taking people’s money, why would you give it to a trust?

Alec Hogg: What happens next with Mr Ashcroft, given he was one of two trustees of the BHI Trust, which was actually a Ponzi scheme? Is he liable in any way? Is that why he came to you?

Caitlin Gottschalk: There is the question of criminal liability. But I believe we’re dealing with an innocent victim who was unaware of what was happening. The main reason he approached us was to help him engage with the authorities and ensure he was taking the proper steps to secure the funds. To provide context, he had been trying to get the bank account frozen but was being stonewalled. So, he came to us for help to ensure the account was frozen.

Alec Hogg: Was that with Nedbank? And what about the company, Axiam, of which Warriner was an agent? They’re registered with the financial authorities. The founder is a South African now based in Switzerland. Have you heard of them before?

Caitlin Gottschalk: I have heard of them before. I’ve never had any sort of dealings with them. And when I asked Mr. Ashcroft about it, he said that he does know Axiom. But as far as he was aware, Axiom had stepped out of the picture some time ago. We’re not sure if that link is still consistent. That accusation about Axiom comes from the Caywood papers, and we’re not sure if that’s still up to date or if that is an old relationship.

Alec Hogg: Wow. Gets more and more interesting as we go forward. So what are you going to be doing for your client from here onwards?

Caitlin Gottschalk: We are helping him engage with the Commercial Crimes Division and the Hawks. We are busy waiting for the appointment of a curator for the trust. And when that happens, we will help him and the curator do whatever is necessary.

Alec Hogg: Have you got any idea whether there is money left in the trust?

Caitlin Gottschalk: We have no idea. We would also like to know.

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