BUSINESS

The artful legacy of Mr.Horne

The British-born charmer developed an expensive habit

JENNIFER WELLS April 15 1996
BUSINESS

The artful legacy of Mr.Horne

The British-born charmer developed an expensive habit

JENNIFER WELLS April 15 1996

The artful legacy of Mr.Horne

BUSINESS

For Toronto art gallery owner Jared Sable, the exhibition was meant to be a warm gathering of friends, a celebration of the works of Montre-

al artist Melvin Charney. But just before opening night last December, Sable hit a snag—two of Charney’s works were locked in a warehouse, under the control of bankruptcy receiver Coopers & Lybrand. Sable tried to get the pictures temporarily sprung, without success. And so, he says, “We had to put up two photographs because you can’t do a show of certain artists without delving into his collection. That’s how good it is.”

“It” is the art collection of Christopher Edmunston Horne, the defrocked stockbroker from RBC Dominion Securities who has been the focus of a two-year investigation into allegations that he bilked clients of something in the order of $6 million. While at RBC Dominion, the securities arm of the mighty Royal Bank, Horne had fostered the image of an art connoisseur, developing a very expensive habit. Sable and other gallery owners had helped in the transformation. ‘We all handpicked it,” he says of Horne’s collection. “It was better than if we had picked it for ourselves.”

Coopers & Lybrand had seized the lot of it. Sable says Horne owes him a great deal of money. “He’s hurt the art market terribly,” says Sable. Which made it all the more surprising when Chris Horne himself swept in to the Charney opening, accompanied by longtime companion Douglas Bradley. Sable could scarcely believe it. “I asked him to leave,” says Sable. “I said he had no place being there.” Horne and Bradley promptly departed.

On March 29, at 6 a.m., the RCMP arrested Chris Horne at his uptown Toronto apartment and charged him with 12 counts of fraud and one of theft. After four days in the city’s Don Jail, Horne was released last week on $100,000 bail. “I saw him on the news laughing as he got out of jail,” says Sable. Many involved in the strange tale of Chris Horne remarked on the disconcerting observation of someone they thought they knew well, but who they clearly did not know at all.

When Chris Horne came onto the Toronto art scene, he was a vice-president at RBC Dominion. He worked with a half-dozen others in the international department at the company’s Toronto headquarters, handling private investors who resided, or

The British-born charmer developed an expensive habit

whose accounts resided, in such offshore locales as the Cayman Islands and the Turks and Caicos. “He knew his way around the Caribbean,” says a former coworker. He knew trust companies and investment advisers, individuals and their reputations. And, apparently, he was good at picking product—stocks and bonds.

British-born, Horne had no roots in Toronto high society, and therefore went about the task of conferring status upon himself. He started small, paying the requisite $60 to become a Freeman of the City of London, an honor that, says one co-worker, “entitles you to walk a herd of goats across London Bridge.” (According to the Lord Mayor’s office, such privileges—and this one was for sheep, not goats—have faded with

the generations.) Horne later paid $10,000 for the lilting title Lord of Llandewy Green.

In a good year, Horne’s commissions brought him more than $500,000. He was, without a doubt, a senior player. like a paid dance partner on transoceanic cruises, he was a charmer with the ladies. And while few heard tell of his a family, he would talk of travelling I abroad with Lord and Lady this, or w Viscount that. Where small dogs were concerned, he was devotional.

Horne started collecting the works of Canadian artists and international photographers—a Frederick Evans portrait of illustrator Aubrey Beardsley; works by Edward Weston and Horst; a Stieglitz. As with the acquisition of titles, collecting art conferred status. When, for a time, he worked for RBC’s sister company, Royal Bank Investment Management, he set about buying corporate art, too. “Some of the art was met with much disdain,” recalls a former peer. “On Bay Street, 99.9 per cent of the people tend to say, ‘Gee, if it doesn’t look like a horse, then I’m not going to buy the picture.’ ”

According to the RCMP, Horne had another hobby, the dimensions of which Bay Streeters could easily grasp. For seven years, commencing in 1987, Horne allegedly funnelled funds out of his clients’ offshore accounts and into his own. In the summer of 1994, RBC Dominion confronted Horne, who admitted his involvement in a number of irregular transactions. Forensic accountants were hired to trace the transnational money trail. That fall, RBC Dominion petitioned Horne into bankruptcy. Horne refuses to comment on

the RCMP charges. David Humphrey, who acted on his behalf at the bail hearing, says Horne “wishes to resolve all charges as quickly as possible,” but will not say how Horne intends to plead at trial.

Meanwhile, Coopers & Lybrand is still in the process of selling Horne’s artistic acquisitions. One exasperated gallery owner complains of the art fixation: “He took big boats to England, he stayed in the most expensive hotels in the world. The guy wore diamonds. The guy wore furs. He had a lavish lifestyle. Art was only one part of it.” Says a past friend: “People lost money, regardless of whether he bought art or bananas. Fortunately, in this case, there’s a Dominion Securities and a Royal Bank with a chequebook.”

It is true that RBC Dominion has made restitution. But that does not mean the securities firm is anywhere near to washing its hands of Chris Horne. The Investment Dealers Association, the self-regulating overseer of more than 100 securities firms, has been conducting its own investigation. Gregory Clarke, the IDA’s vice-president of member regulation, says the IDA has a final draft of the charges it will lay against Horne. Until his arrest, the IDA was intending to package charges against Horne with others against RBC Dominion. But now that the RCMP has acted, the IDA may try to save face by going after Horne independently. Making a case against the brokerage is, says Clarke, a tougher nut. “This is a circumstance where a financial institution has failed to prevent an employee from stealing the assets of certain clients,” he says. “They have done what you normally would expect a financial institution to do, which is to pay off all the clients. The issue is, what did they do wrong?”

For the IDA, making its best case against RBC Dominion is crucial. Clarke says it will be the first major test of the association’s self-regulatory powers. The charges, he adds, will send a signal “that there is a minimum standard as regards supervision of accounts, and that if you don’t do the following, it’s in violation of our rules and we will charge you for it.” If the IDA is successful, the financial penalty—likely no more than $1 million—will mean little to the Royal, but it will not play well from a public relations perspective.

As for Chris Horne, he was preparing to celebrate his 54th birthday last week. Onetime friends, who now talk in terms of hurt and betrayal, noted that Horne’s birthday fell on Good Friday this year. Jared Sable momentarily adopts a British accent: “At the end of the day it will all be paid off,” he says, mimicking what Horne has said to him. Then he drops the accent and says less humorously, “I don’t know at the end of which day.”

JENNIFER WELLS