Judge opens door for Edmonton romance fraudster to be assessed as dangerous offender

“The offender appears to have an intentional disregard for how his offending behaviour affects his victims,” judge says

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A serial romance fraudster who financially preyed on women to feed his gambling addiction can be assessed to determine whether he might be deemed a dangerous offender, an Edmonton judge has ruled.

Jeffrey Kent was dealt a major blow last week when Court of King’s Bench Justice Melanie Hayes-Richards granted a Crown application to have Kent evaluated by mental health experts to determine if he fits the criteria of a dangerous or long-term offender.

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If the Crown is ultimately successful, Kent — who pleaded guilty to defrauding five women of nearly $170,000 — could be imprisoned indefinitely. Experts previously told Postmedia there are few precedents for dangerous offender applications in financial crimes.

Hayes-Richards, however, found Kent meets the criteria to at least be assessed.

“The offender appears to have an intentional disregard for how his offending behaviour affects his victims,” she wrote in the Nov. 1 decision. “He knows that his behaviour inflicts psychological harm on his victims, yet that fact does not deter him from engaging in the same behaviour over and over again.

“Left untreated, the offender is likely to engage in the same behaviour again, which is likely to cause severe psychological damage to any person who becomes a target of (his) schemes.”

Kent has been in custody since late 2017 after being arrested for a series of romance frauds that began the year prior.

He pleaded guilty to the frauds in 2022 but later tried to recant, claiming he was coerced into pleading guilty. Hayes-Richards tossed Kent’s application after finding no evidence for the claim.

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In an agreed statement of facts, Kent admitted to sham relationships with five women he met through the dating app Plenty of Fish. He created fake personas to ingratiate himself with the women, variously telling them he was a lawyer, a scholar of legal ethics, a construction company CEO and the owner of a horse farm. He told several women he had brain cancer or a seizure disorder. Eventually, he asked the women for money, promising a quick repayment once an investment opportunity panned out.

“In most cases, he was spending their money at the casino or on horse races,” Hayes-Richards wrote.

While most dangerous or long-term offenders are convicted of violent crimes, Hayes-Richards said violence is not a prerequisite. All that’s needed is a conviction on an indictable offence with a maximum sentence of 10 years or more.

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The Crown must also prove the crime was a “serious personal injury offence,” that the accused has demonstrated a pattern of behaviour that is “substantially or pathologically intractable,” and that that pattern poses “a likely risk of severe psychological damage to other persons.”

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Hayes-Richards said the Crown met the test on all counts. She said Kent caused each of his victims “long-term psychological harm” that goes beyond mere economic loss.

Hayes-Richards also found Kent exhibited a pattern of exploiting romantic relationships for financial gain. Between 1990 and 1996, he was convicted of 12 separate counts of fraud, two counts of attempted fraud and 14 counts of theft. A relative lull came between 1996 and 2008 when Kent served an 18-month jail sentence along with three year’s probation, after which he racked up 10 additional fraud convictions between 2008 and 2019.

“The offender appears to have deeply ingrained personality disorders that are resistant to change and that lead him back to gambling and deception,” Hayes-Richards wrote. “The offender has benefitted from significant treatment which has not deterred him from his offending behaviour. This suggests that he is difficult to treat. As such, it would be difficult to estimate or predict a time frame for improvement or evaluate the outlook for improvement.”

Hayes-Richards also summarized a variety of comments from judges who sentenced Kent in the past. One said Kent demonstrated “the most deplorable leech-like behaviour.” Another said he is “generally contrite after being caught and shows genuine remorse” but nonetheless continues to defraud people. A third said Kent displays “a degree of incorrigibility and predatory conduct.”

She also paraphrased statements Kent has made about his crimes to courts and report writers. He admitted he would “go back to the bank” whenever he needed money, and that his gambling addiction “compels him to do some horrible, despicable things and maintain sociopathic behaviour.”

If she ultimately deems him a dangerous offender, Kent could face an indefinite prison sentence with no chance of parole for at least seven years.

Jeinis Patel, Kent’s lawyer, did not respond to a request for comment.

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