BUSINESS

A fall from grace

Donald Ripley vows to clear his name

JOHN DeMONT April 22 1991
BUSINESS

A fall from grace

Donald Ripley vows to clear his name

JOHN DeMONT April 22 1991

A fall from grace

Donald Ripley vows to clear his name

BUSINESS

The sparsely furnished office is located in the back of a nearly vacant building in downtown Halifax. For Donald Ripley, the lonely, austere surroundings are a constant reminder of his painful fall from grace. Once, the dark-haired, youthful-looking businessman

had it all. Until 1987, he ran the Halifax operations of Toronto-based McLeod Young Weir Inc., one of the country’s leading investment firms. He also served as chairman of the Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative party’s finance committee, a role that made him a key adviser to Nova Scotia’s thenpremier, John Buchanan.

Now 56, Ripley is unemployed and still trying to recover his health after a heart attack brought on last year, he claims, by stress. But the controversial stockbroker has plans to strike back publicly against the investment industry, which he says is founded on hypocrisy. Added Ripley, in a recent Maclean ’s interview: “No human being deserves to be treated like this after devoting your life to a business.”

Ripley has spent the past three years immersed in a bitter and expensive court battle to clear himself of accusations by the Investment Dealers Association, which regulates the Canadian investment industry. The asso-

ciation charges that he broke its rules by disclosing confidential information about one of his firm's clients—former federal public works minister Stewart Mclnnes—and by conducting outside deals without his firm’s knowledge. The fight, Ripley says, has cost him $400,000 in legal bills, damaged his health and driven him to the edge of bankruptcy. The mercurial financier says that he is the innocent victim of a “kangaroo court” composed of members of the Bay Street establishment who acted as both judge and jury.

Ripley plans to make his case public in his new book, The Roos of Bay Street, which will be published this fall by Lugus Publications, a small Toronto publishing house. In the book, Ripley says, he will present evidence supporting his claim to being the victim of a conspiracy by senior Bay Street businessmen. Declared Ripley: “My only crime is refusing to roll over

when the establishment boys told me to.” Despite the power and influence that he wielded, Ripley grew from humble roots. He was born in Kentville, N.S., a town of 10,000 in which his parents operated a shoe store. While still a teenager, he left home to play semipro-

fessional baseball in the United States and Japan, before returning to Nova Scotia in 1958. Recalls Ripley: “Eventually, I realized that I was never going to make it to the big leagues.” Despite suffering from dyslexia, he took several courses at Acadia University in Wolfville, N.S. He then joined Burns Fry Ltd. as a salesman in the firm’s Halifax office. In 1971, he moved to McLeod Young Weir, also in Halifax, as one of its two brokers in the Atlantic provinces. Soon afterwards, he became one of the company’s most successful brokers. With Ripley running McLeod’s Halifax operations, the firm emerged as the chief underwriter in most Nova Scotia government bond underwritings. From 1971 to 1988, he also served as a key fund raiser for the Nova Scotia Tories. According to Ripley, the firm earned at least $5 million in commissions from his brokerage

work for the province between 1979 and 1987.

But Ripley’s world began to unravel on June 22,1987, when Liberal MP Sheila Copps stood up in the Commons and waved a sheaf of confidential trading records from McLeod’s Halifax office. According to Copps, the documents showed that Mclnnes, who represented Halifax riding, had breached the government’s conflict-of-interest guidelines for cabinet ministers by receiving monthly statements about a stock-trading account that he had placed in a blind trust. Mclnnes, who lost his seat in the 1988 federal election, was later exonerated by the office of the federal registrar general.

In the investment community, the biggest issue was not what the documents said, but how they had fallen into Copps’s hands. Both McLeod and the IDA launched investigations. Much of the attention focused on Ripley, who, the IDA said, had provided the information as a result of a “personal vendetta” against Ross Montgomery, a former colleague in McLeod’s Halifax office and Mclnnes’s chief fund raiser. Ripley denies that he tried to discredit Montgomery, adding: “We’re still friends.”

A month after the documents became public, McLeod chairman Austin Taylor fired Ripley and agreed to pay him $1.2 million for his shares in the company. For its part, the IDA offered to end its investigation on condition that Ripley pay it a $13,000 disciplinary fine and sign a letter acknowledging that he had failed in his duty to supervise the Mclnnes account. “That could have been the end of it,” says Gregory Clarke, the IDA’S vice-president of member regulation. But as Ripley told Maclean’s, “I would rather have cut off my right arm than admit to something I didn’t do.”

Still, Ripley paid dearly for his determination. In February, 1990, the IDA’s disciplinary committee found him guilty of leaking the documents. It also ruled that Ripley had engaged improperly in “side deals”—selling investments in real estate and mining projects that were neither approved nor known about by McLeod’s head office in Toronto. Three months later, the IDA suspended him for two years and fined him $115,000, which Ripley has yet to pay. And Ripley lost his new job as Atlantic vice-president of Midland Doherty Inc., a position that he took after being fired by McLeod.

Ripley staunchly maintains his innocence. He says that in October, he will appeal the IDA ruling before the Nova Scotia Supreme Court. He has also launched a lawsuit against ScotiaMcLeod Inc., McLeod Young’s successor, for wrongful dismissal. But regardless of the outcome of his court actions, Ripley says that his business career is over. Sitting gloomily in his Halifax office—where, he says, he spends a few hours every day on his personal affairs— Ripley claimed that his well-publicized troubles and his health problems have made him unemployable. Added Ripley: “I feel that I have wasted my life.” For a man who once wielded enormous influence in the business and political life of Nova Scotia, it is a bitter conclusion.

JOHN DeMONT in Halifax