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Norbourg goodies up for grabs

Date: Thursday, December 15, 2005
Author: BERTRAND MAROTTE- www.theglobeandmail.com

MONTREAL -- Surveillance equipment and memorabilia of hockey legend Maurice Richard were among the items on the block yesterday in an auction of property belonging to scandal-plagued mutual fund manager Norbourg Asset Management Inc.

About 400 bargain hunters stopped by Norbourg's head office in downtown Montreal to check out everything from leather couches and standard-issue office artwork to a 2003 Volvo S40, scale-model sailboats and a 26-camera surveillance system, as well as limited Maurice Richard souvenirs

The auction was under the auspices of trustee RSM Richter Inc. Norbourg was shut down in August over allegations of fraud and embezzlement of funds. Founder and controlling shareholder Vincent Lacroix's licence to act as an investment counsellor was suspended. He has denied any wrongdoing.

A preliminary report by administrator Ernst & Young estimated that about $130-million of investors' money is unaccounted for.

Investigations by Quebec's financial authority and the RCMP continue.

The Rocket Richard memorabilia included crests and pennants bearing the famous logo of the Montreal Canadiens and Mr. Richard's No. 9, figurines of the hockey great in action, rare trading cards and signed photographs. One item includes the Rocket's signature as well as his words of advice to "never give up."

"Those kinds of collections, when they're sold at auction, it's very unpleasant," said Donald Lacroix, Mr. Lacroix's father who acted briefly as a spokesman in the months following the scandal at Norbourg.

He said many of the items were displayed in Norbourg's corporate suite at the Bell Centre where Mr. Lacroix, a passionate hockey fan, would entertain clients.

In a related event, an empty red Bordeaux wine bottle with a specially made Norbourg label was put up for sale on eBay.

The host of an irreverent Radio-Canada television current events show, Jean-René Dufort, said on a program yesterday that the contents of the bottle were consumed by Mr. Lacroix. He said the auction started at $10. The proceeds will go to a special fund to reimburse investors, he added.

In a separate development, the homes of Mr. Lacroix were searched by police on Tuesday, almost three months after authorities first cracked down on Norbourg, according to Radio-Canada, the CBC's French-language service.

Radio-Canada said Mr. Lacroix's two homes outside Montreal were searched at the request of Ernst & Young. The homes were not searched when the provincial financial authority and the RCMP raided the offices of Norbourg and its suppliers in August.

Mr. Lacroix surprised Ernst & Young and regulatory authorities in October when he moved to place Norbourg and five related funds under court protection from creditors, saying the move was the best way to realize value on the company's assets. He had been trying to unlock $1.5-million of Norbourg funds he said were his.