Two Waddell Avenue in Dartmouth, NS, where James Drage maintained offices for several companies
Cash and Burn
How a self-styled venture capitalist sold Hollywood on a made-in-Nova Scotia video game, burned through more than a million dollars in public money, and left a trail of jilted investors in his wake.
by Quentin Casey
Photos by Meghan Tansey Whitton
Illustrations by Nick Brunt
ary Wood wanted to change her life. So in January 2003, she made a bold move: she left her home in Exeter, U.K., and moved to Nova Scotia, starting over at age 57. In 2000, she’d visited friends in the province, who seemed to be leading relaxed, interesting, carefree lives. Single, and with her son and daughter grown, Wood was free to roam. Why not try life in a beautiful city by the ocean in a new country? Before leaving England, Wood sold everything—she didn’t want to be tempted by an easy return home.
That spring in Halifax, she bought a white bungalow with a water view at 39 Dakin Drive, where she planned to open a bed and breakfast, nestled between Hemlock Ravine Park and the Bedford Basin. Wood had her fresh start. And just as she hoped, her life would change forever—though not how she’d planned. By the fall of 2003, her plan for reinvention was fizzling. The house was a money pit, requiring a nightmare list of upgrades and repairs, including new wiring and a boiler. With her bed-and-breakfast vision sunk, Wood needed income. She took in international lodgers and worked part-time as a motel clerk, but it wasn’t enough. She was floundering financially.
In the summer of 2004, salvation appeared: an acquaintance introduced her to a man named James Drage, a financial advisor and small-time mortgage broker, who owned a company called Mortgage Opportunities. Wood invited Drage to her home, and he made a pitch. She thought him typically Canadian: easy-going, polite, and open to a joke. Dressed smartly in a suit, he spoke like an experienced financial expert, and gave her options for investing her modest life savings.
Wood says Drage convinced her to invest $155,000 in three separate sums, over the course of a year, which went into his brokerage’s capital pool for dispensing mortgages. In return, she’d get monthly interest payments, funneled to her by Drage, from the people borrowing from Mortgage Opportunities. She’d never before invested privately, and certainly not with a stranger. But Drage had been recommended, was obviously experienced, and seemed like a charming family man. And his proposal seemed perfectly timed. “It was risky, but anything’s risky,” Wood told me. Drage quickly returned her money with interest, boosting her confidence in him.
Wood enjoyed Drage’s company, too. The pair met for lunch on several occasions and talked about the therapeutic writing workshops Wood ran for breast-cancer survivors, as well as a book she co-wrote called The Magic of Writing Things Down. Drage, who was interested in self-improvement, liked the book’s “life chart” for calculating how balanced your life is. He talked about Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and recited a famous quote from journalist Lincoln Steffens: “I have seen the future, and it works.” (Ironically, given Drage’s capitalistic inclinations, Steffens was referring to how well he thought the Soviet Union worked.) He was an omnivorous entrepreneur, with interests in industries as disparate as real estate and venture capital, but despite his fast-paced lifestyle, Wood believed Drage had a spiritual side, and wanted to be a better businessperson. She trusted him.
Overburdened with maintenance costs, Wood sold her house on Dakin Drive to Drage’s Mortgage Opportunities for use as an office in August 2005. Wood helped him finance the purchase, providing $60,000 to Mortgage Opportunities in return for a mortgage on the property, and CIBC financed the balance by providing him with $185,000 for a separate mortgage. Wood walked away with the sale proceeds, minus that $60,000. She was certain Drage would repay the mortgage with interest, just as he had with her previous investments.
He was an omnivorous entrepreneur, but Wood believed Drage had a spiritual side, and wanted to be a better businessperson. She trusted him.
A month later, in a display of full confidence, Wood gave Drage her final and largest single investment: $100,000, for two of his other Mortgage Opportunities clients, Dan and Linda Doherty, whom Drage said were buying a house through his brokerage. It was the remainder of her life’s savings.
Drage was to give Wood’s money to the Dohertys, collect the interest, and give that money back to Wood, keeping a percentage for himself. For seven years, Drage promptly paid Wood monthly interest for both mortgages she backed through him. But by 2010, payments had started coming in late. “Sometimes I had to chase him for it,” Wood told me. “He would say he was in Dubai or he was in Vancouver.” Wood didn’t worry, though. Drage was just busy and disorganized, she told herself.
In June 2012, after nearly a decade in Canada, Wood was diagnosed with age-related macular degeneration. She knew her eyesight was going to fade, and with her permanent residency card soon to expire, she decided to return to the U.K. She says Drage promised to return her investments from the two mortgages before she departed in June 2013. But the money never came.
After she returned to England, the interest payments ceased and Drage became difficult to reach. Wood had trusted him with her life savings for almost a decade, but when she wanted to withdraw that money, Drage disappeared. She didn’t know it then, but it was a pattern of behaviour reported by others who’ve done business with Drage. He’d stop paying, give apologies, excuses, and finally, vanish into radio silence.
Like other investors, Wood was charmed by Drage’s confidence. He carried an air of success and sophistication, exuded business savvy, and appeared to be a well-to-do venture capitalist with plenty of money to shower on smartly chosen investments, from real estate to tech start-ups. But Wood was completely oblivious to Drage’s true financial situation, and his dense legal history. He’s gone bankrupt, and has been successfully sued many times throughout his career by business partners, investors, banks, and even his own lawyers. His companies have secured, collectively, nearly $2 million—at least—from public funding bodies including Nova Scotia Business Inc. (NSBI) and the federal government’s Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA), even as Drage himself faced litigation. Far from a business titan with a golden touch, Drage has failed over and over again.
Yet even as lawsuits, failed businesses, and bad debts collected around him—and as Wood struggled to settle back in the U.K. without her savings—Drage was remaking himself as a player in Nova Scotia’s burgeoning tech and video-game universe. In 2013, he launched his boldest project yet, one that would rope in still-bigger investors and players, from Halifax to Ottawa to Hollywood.
Mary Wood’s would-be bed-and-breakfast at 39 Dakin Drive, just off the Bedford Highway.
wo Waddell Avenue is a small white building in Dartmouth, close to the A. Murray MacKay Bridge, where Drage, 50, keeps an office. The building is also home to Precision Health Group, which runs pharmacies and special-care facilities in Nova Scotia and Ontario. Drage is a company director.
This February, after weeks of trying fruitlessly to reach Drage by phone and email, I stopped by. The front door opened into a room cluttered with empty cardboard boxes. I climbed up a flight of stairs to a landing area. Two women were standing over what seemed to be a reception desk, although the pair seemed surprised to see a stranger emerge at the top of the stairs.
When I asked for Drage, one of the women told me he’d just left.
“Are you sure?” the second woman said in a puzzled voice.
“Yeah, he’s gone,” the first woman said tersely.
Drage is elusive. I’ve called and emailed him several times, advising him of the nature of this story and seeking an interview to address his legal past and business dealings, but he’s never responded. And much of his biography, as he presents it, turns out to be misleading or simply untrue.
For example, Drage’s LinkedIn profile includes two listings under education: public administration at Dalhousie University and a master’s in leadership and learning from Royal Roads University in Victoria, British Columbia. After contacting both institutions, I found out he doesn’t have degrees from either.
His companies have secured nearly $2 million from public funding bodies including Nova Scotia Business Inc. and the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency—even as Drage himself faced litigation.
In a bio on the Private Capital Markets Association of Canada website, Drage says he founded and exited several companies. (In the start-up world, an “exit” typically implies leaving a company after selling it for a substantial amount of money). In another bio, Drage says he worked in mergers and acquisitions in New York before returning to “his roots in Nova Scotia” in 2005 (even though he met Wood and was doing business in Halifax at least one year earlier). That same year, he created Atlantic Venture Capital Partners (AVCP), which he claims was the first private venture capital firm in eastern Canada, and where he says he’s still the managing partner.
A search of the Nova Scotia Registry of Joint Stock Companies reveals more than a dozen businesses connected to Drage, in industries as varied as real estate and medical research. Many, though, have been revoked from the registry for non-payment, including AVCP and Mortgage Opportunities. “My roles change constantly,” Drage writes in his LinkedIn profile, “and I live my life through my motto ‘Nothing Positive is Forbidden’TM.” (The use of “TM” implies he trademarked the line, which he often includes at the bottom of emails).
According to Wood, he has five children. His wife, Elisabeth, is listed as president and director of one of Drage’s defunct businesses but is otherwise almost non-existent online. The investors I spoke with realized too late that they knew almost nothing about the man they trusted with their savings. Instead, it’s Drage’s lengthy legal history that helps paint a more detailed portrait.
tlantic Canada’s tech sector has seen its fair share of hype and boosterism—and it’s not all hot air. In 2011, San Francisco-based Salesforce bought New Brunswick-based social-media monitoring company Radian6 for more than $300 million. Its founders became instant millionaires, and the region got some major business news that didn’t involve anyone named Irving, McCain, or Sobey.
In 2012, Salesforce nabbed Halifax’s GoInstant, for a reported $70 million, and IBM bought Q1 Labs, which started in Fredericton, for a reported $600 million. In 2013, Volta Labs, a tech start-up incubator, opened in Halifax with funds from ACOA. For local tech and start-up boosters, the message was clear: valuable technology could be created on Canada’s east coast.
Enter Orpheus Interactive, a small Halifax-based video-game company that had landed a big licensing deal with 21st Century Fox to produce a game based on the hit TV show Sons of Anarchy, which followed an outlaw motorcycle club in Northern California. Earlier this year, I called and emailed people connected to Orpheus to discuss the project, but hardly anyone would speak on the record. Duke Mighten, one of the company’s founders and its initial art director, was the lone exception, though he warned me in an email: “my story isn’t a positive one.”
Originally from the U.K., Mighten was a comic-book artist who’d worked on projects for Marvel and DC Comics. He transitioned to video games in 2000, landing jobs at Electronic Arts in the U.K., as well as at studios in Europe, California, and Australia. In 2011, he moved to Halifax for a job at Longtail Studios.
In an email to Braganza at ACOA on March 31, 2013, Drage wrote, “This is going to happen and I hope will be the most exciting gaming development in NS history.”
In his spare time, Mighten had developed a playable comic book—essentially a combination of comic-book narrative and playable action scenes—and was looking to turn the project into a viable business. He got in touch with ACOA to inquire about potential funding, and ACOA account manager Martin Braganza told him about a man named James Drage. Drage had already been connected with ACOA—he was president of a company called Dartmouth Medical Research, which was developing a bone glue, and had secured two ACOA contributions, one in 2010 and one in 2011. Pairing up with an influential and well-connected businessperson would really strengthen Mighten’s likelihood of getting funding, Braganza explained.
In March 2013, Mighten and Drage met up at a Halifax coffee shop, where Drage explained that he wanted to put a team together to pitch for the video-game rights to Sons of Anarchy. He’d already brought on Alastair Jarvis, the former general manager of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia-based HB Studios to help.
Drage admitted that video games were new to him, and Mighten, who’d recently been fired from Longtail Studios, told Drage about his mobile-game prototype. With limited game action, they wouldn’t require an army of developers, and it could be built in a year. Drage was pleased and told Mighten he’d have no trouble raising the necessary funds from investors. He offered Mighten the position of third co-founder and creative lead. In an email to Braganza at ACOA on March 31, 2013, he wrote: “This is going to happen and I hope will be the most exciting gaming development in NS history.”
In April 2013, ACOA gave Orpheus $50,000 to officially hire Mighten and Jarvis for seven months. Nova Scotia’s provincial business-development agency, NSBI, also provided $21,875, which Drage used to hire another consultant, at $1,000 a day, to review the new company’s plans. And this was all before Fox had even accepted their bid for the game rights.
The ultimate goal was to raise $4 million. According to Mighten, the low-tech game he proposed only required a budget of a few hundred thousand dollars, but he, Drage, and Jarvis had bigger ambitions: they wanted to create Halifax’s version of Telltale Games, a California company that produced episodic video games like the one based on the gory zombie TV series The Walking Dead.
Mighten was in charge of art and creative direction, Jarvis was the game’s executive producer, and Drage was responsible for the business end, including raising the $4-million budget. (At one point, Drage told Mighten that he’d secured $2 million before the game licence was even acquired.) Drage expected the additional $2 million would come easily after the contract was signed.
Duke Mighten says the scale of the Sons of Anarchy game expanded after Halifax’s Silverback Games was hired to produce it, and Orpheus staff moved into Silverback’s Cornwallis Street offices. “Literally every month that passed from there, we were falling further and further behind,” says Mighten.
On June 4, 2013, Devin Radford, director of mobile at Fox Digital Entertainment, sent Jarvis an email with the subject line, “We’re in business!” Radford had presented Orpheus’s pitch to executives at Fox and FX Networks that afternoon, and they’d loved it. The deal was finalized in Los Angeles in August, when Drage and Jarvis met with Sons of Anarchy creator Kurt Sutter and executives from FX Networks and Fox to sign the contract.
They planned to start work in September 2013 and hire up to 22 developers, including Drage’s son Christian, who, according to his LinkedIn profile, spent a year studying video game design at the Vancouver Film School. The first of their episodes would launch one year later, during the final season of Sons of Anarchy, in order to piggy-back off the show’s marketing engine.
Drage did secure some significant early investment cash for the company. He successfully hit up fellow members of the Ottawa chapter of YPO (formerly called Young Presidents Organization), an international peer-mentoring group for business executives, as well as Ottawa-based One Key Financial, and Green Century Investment in Toronto.
It’s unclear if Drage was actually using those investments to fund Orpheus, though. “[He] was always coming up short,” says Mighten. From the start, Mighten says, there wasn’t even enough cash to buy computers, and paycheques were either late or didn’t arrive at all. Throughout the game’s production, Drage would often arrive at the office with just a few of the outstanding cheques. Within a half hour he’d be gone. In an email to Mighten in January 2014, Drage brushed off the late payments: “I’m not stressed and if you aren’t I will work everything out and we will all stay that way :)”
Privately, Drage must have felt strained. Mighten and others had no idea, but Drage was weathering a storm of litigation, being chased in at least three lawsuits, and had recently been investigated by the Royal Bank of Canada’s fraud-detection group.
Drage claimed he had ownership in 13 businesses worth more than $3.5 million, more than $2.8 million in real estate, and four cars: a Mercedes S500, a Prius, a Porsche Boxster, and a BMW.
In July 2012—a year before Orpheus won the Sons of Anarchy contract, before ACOA or NSBI had given him any money for the video game, and before he’d even met Duke Mighten—Drage was called in to meet with Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) managers in Halifax.
RBC’s fraud-detection group had spotted unusual activity on accounts held by Drage and another of his companies, Manor Custom Homes. They suspected cheque kiting, a form of bank fraud where a depositor with two or more accounts takes advantage of the time required for items to clear or settle to obtain unauthorized credit. He also owed the bank $112,000, after Manor Custom Homes defaulted on a loan, a line of credit, and a business Visa.
The details of that 2012 investigation are contained in a stack of court documents filed by RBC. Tucked into that stack is one especially interesting document: a personal statement of affairs (essentially a financial self-assessment) that Drage submitted in 2012. In it, Drage claimed he had ownership in 13 businesses worth more than $3.5 million, more than $2.8 million in real estate (four Nova Scotia properties and an Ottawa condo), and four cars: a Mercedes S500, a Prius, a Porsche Boxster, and a BMW. Drage noted that he and his wife had a combined income of $197,000, and he denied ever having declared bankruptcy. (Court records show he filed for bankruptcy in 1996.)
He also claimed a total net worth of $3.8 million. RBC managers were puzzled. “The client’s explanation [regarding the odd movements on his accounts] does not make sense. He should have had funds readily available,” one manager wrote in an internal bank communication.
It got worse. A month later, in August 2012, the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) sent an order to RBC: any money deposited into Drage’s accounts had to be sent to CRA to cover $183,991.58 in unpaid taxes owed by Manor Custom Homes. RBC ultimately decided not to pursue a charge of bank fraud, but lost confidence in him and terminated his accounts that September.
In April 2014, almost two years later, and a year into the Sons of Anarchy project, Maxium Financial Services Inc. filed a lawsuit against Drage, his wife Elisabeth, and yet another one of Drage’s companies, Medic Aid Atlantic. They’d defaulted on a mortgage for Medic Aid in Bridgewater, Nova Scotia, and allegedly owed the financing firm more than $420,000.
All of this was playing out exactly when Drage was asking government and private investors for the $4 million he’d promised for Orpheus, including YPO members Duncan McNaughton and Tim Snelling. McNaughton ended up investing $500,000, and Snelling a smaller amount, for the Sons of Anarchy project. Snelling was a huge fan of the show, and while nothing in investing is a sure thing, he saw “nothing but an upside,” he says. “I had a high level of trust with James.”
Not long after making that investment, though, Snelling had a family crisis and needed the money back. According to Snelling, Drage responded to the request by asking for more money. Snelling emailed and phoned Drage repeatedly, but got no response. “Just fucking explain it to me,” Snelling told me with lingering frustration. Snelling had lost money investing before, but this time it felt different: “His lack of communication, and the fact that he just abandoned us, was disgusting.”
ighten says that by his fifth month without pay, Drage owed him more than $20,000. “My wife was driven to tears because of the financial situation James had put us in,” he says. “I was frustrated, and I got pretty pissed when I realized James was playing some sort of game with my livelihood.”
By now, Drage was an infrequent visitor at the Orpheus office. Frequently travelling, he often ran late, rescheduled meetings, or was simply unreachable. According to Mighten, they weren’t just running behind on funding, but production as well. Jarvis had hired Halifax-based Silverback Games to produce the game. Some Orpheus staff moved into the Silverback offices, and Silverback co-founder Willie Stevenson ended up replacing Mighten as creative director. Progress was delayed and sometimes halted altogether as some unpaid contractors refused to work. The project also shifted from an augmented comic book to a more advanced 3D game, despite Mighten’s warnings that the changes would push them past their fall 2014 deadline. “Literally every month that passed from there, we were falling further and further behind,” Mighten says. “Even if we had access to the $4 million, it would not have been achievable.”
But apparently none of these problems made it to ACOA. In December 2013, Drage wrote an email to Braganza saying they had a demo that was going to “wow people,” and that “things really couldn’t be going any better.” In February 2014, ACOA approved its second payment to Orpheus, a $500,000 “repayable contribution” through its Business Development Program. “I think I just smiled,” Drage wrote to Braganza on February 18.
Mighten says his concern about the slow pace of production was creating tension in the office. Things got so bad at one point that Drage asked Mighten to resign, promising to work with him on other projects. Mighten refused. In April 2014, Jarvis finally fired him while Drage was away on one of his trips. At the time, Mighten says there was only a very loose outline for 12 sprawling episodes, and still no final script for the first episode. Before leaving the company, he insisted his name be scrubbed from Orpheus’s core documents, including its list of directors. He didn’t want to be liable when Orpheus failed. “I knew Orpheus was lost,” he says.
In February 2014, ACOA approved its second payment to Orpheus, a $500,000 “repayable contribution.” “I think I just smiled,” Drage wrote to Braganza.
Reached by phone, Stevenson laughed slightly when I mentioned Orpheus. “I can’t really discuss that whole thing,” he said. “It’s too risky for me to talk about that.” Jarvis also declined comment. (At least two people connected to Orpheus credited Jarvis with getting the project as far as it did).
After he was fired, Mighten discovered that tax withheld from his Orpheus paycheques hadn’t been sent to the government. On July 21, 2014, Mighten sent Drage an email, warning Drage that it could be seen as fraud. He wanted the issue resolved, or he’d involve the company’s investors, including ACOA. Drage responded to Mighten 16 minutes later, saying he’d look into it, but, he noted, “You should know that threatening me is not a good idea… silly threats… only frustrate me.” He added: “I may not be a good friend, but I am definitely a bad enemy.”
After Mighten’s experience in Halifax, he worked in video-game production in Germany and then Australia, and now works as an art director in casino gaming in Sydney. “Halifax was a fucked place to be,” he says, adding later, “you have to line yourself up with some sort of mafia guy and make a deal with the devil.”
n June 8, 2014, one year after returning to Exeter from Halifax, Mary Wood was still couch surfing and trying to settle back into life in her old city, struggling with her sight and without even enough money for a place to live. Frustrated and fed up, she sent Drage an email with the subject line: “On being Conned.”
“To say I am angry doesn’t begin to express how I feel,” she wrote. “The last year has been a nightmare as I have had to stay with relatives and claim benefits, something I have never done in my life before and that I find totally humiliating. I can hear you making all sorts of excuses but… why not [just pay] me? Hey, it’s because I’m just a batty old Brit who’s going blind! Friends and family tell me I must sue your ass,” she went on. “It galls me to think you go swanning round the world yet you are unable to pay me any money.”
Drage replied on July 2.
“I will adamantly say that you were not conned,” he wrote. “Caught up in my problems and my misguided attempt to do what I thought was right but not conned. I have not profited from any of this at all… You will get your money… I know you do not deserve this and while I know it doesn’t matter to you I suspect my last year+ has been worse than yours. Comparing misery can’t and won’t help though.”
Selling the properties would solve the situation, he added. Wood would be repaid from the sale proceeds, just as a bank recoups soured mortgage investments by unloading foreclosed properties.
Yet the delays continued. On July 14, Wood emailed again: “You must think I’m a sandwich short of a picnic.”
In March 2015, nearly a decade after they met, Wood filed a statement of claim against Drage for breach of mortgage contracts. Again, Drage proved evasive, displaying, in the words of Wood’s lawyer, “a pattern of delay and refusal to cooperate.”
he Sons of Anarchy game episodes were supposed to roll out with the TV series’ final season in September. But in August, episodes two to five were still under construction. With the project behind schedule, the episodes were halved and the five-episode story arc became 10 smaller episodes, part of an attempt to reduce the scope of each episode, speed along production, and get some part of the game out on time.
Despite the game being clearly behind schedule, and the fact that RBC had investigated Drage, ACOA approved its third contribution to the project that September, again for $500,000. Finally, in January 2015, one month after Sons of Anarchy ended its final season, Orpheus released Sons of Anarchy: The Prospect. The release of a single episode months behind schedule was essentially a failure for the company, yet the game’s launch was celebrated in local media. A story on entrevestor.com, a business and start-up blog frequently re-published in the The Chronicle Herald, claimed that Orpheus “has quickly and quietly become a major addition to the gaming community in the region.”
“Halifax was a fucked place to be,” says Mighten. “You have to line yourself up with some sort of mafia guy and make a deal with the devil.”
The Prospect would be the first and only game Orpheus ever put out.
Jarvis left the company in April 2015, and by summer, Drage was the lone founder left. Somehow he landed a new CEO, Lance Young, to be Orpheus’s saviour. According to his LinkedIn profile, Young is a former Hollywood bigwig, who’s worked as an executive at Paramount, Warner Bros., and DreamWorks Animation, overseeing the production of movies including The Hunt for Red October, Fatal Attraction, and Free Willy. Young would restructure the company, help fix bugs in the first episode, and raise more money to produce new ones.
But it was futile. Orpheus, long on life support, was dead.
In September 2016, the Director of Labour Standards received a judgment against Orpheus for nearly $120,000 in pay owed to Orpheus employees. ACOA also sued Orpheus that month, obtaining a default judgment ordering Orpheus to repay nearly $1 million.
And ACOA wasn’t just on the hook for its Orpheus contributions. By October 2017, the agency had secured similar judgments for debts owed by two other companies connected to Drage. Email Opened, an email software company where Drage was a director, was ordered to pay $334,105.05, and Dartmouth Medical Research, where he served as president, was told to repay $557,148.33.
1801 Hollis Street in Halifax, where the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency keeps its regional office.
he regional ACOA offices in Nova Scotia are located in downtown Halifax, steps from the province’s Supreme Court, where it’s possible to view documents detailing Drage’s lengthy legal history. Some of those past lawsuits have even been reported in the media. So how did Drage secure so much ACOA money for Orpheus?
“It wasn’t him who was getting money from ACOA. It was the company that was getting money from ACOA,” said ACOA spokesperson Alex Smith. According to Smith, ACOA’s due diligence included ensuring that Orpheus had already secured some outside investment, and confirming the Sons of Anarchy licence was actually secured from Fox.
In a follow-up email, I pressed further: Drage’s legal history never factored into the assessment? “ACOA conducts its due diligence on the applicant leading a project based on the information available,” the agency responded. I asked if Drage could ever get ACOA money again. “It’s a hypothetical question,” Smith said. In fact, within ACOA, the money provided to Orpheus is still viewed as a big swing that could have been a wild success.
Many people involved remain angry though, and some have sued. YPO member Duncan McNaughton sued Orpheus for $500,000. And Drage has continued to face litigation connected to other deals. In May 2018, a group of plaintiffs—including Martin Singh, a former candidate for the federal NDP leadership, and Drage’s fellow director at Precision Health Limited—received a default judgment against Drage. Singh alleged Drage took $710,000 for mortgage investments, but offered no proof the mortgages exist.
But despite lingering legal trouble, Drage has emerged with new businesses since Orpheus collapsed. In 2015, he co-founded Runway Finance Group, which grants loans up to $5 million to Canadian companies. On his LinkedIn account, he’s also listed as managing partner of Algal Ventures, “the world’s first algae only investment firm.” Most unbelievably, though, Drage has founded another video-game company called Participant Games. The company was even part of a 2017 delegation—led by NSBI—to a kids’ entertainment summit in Miami.
On his LinkedIn account, Drage is listed as managing partner of Algal Ventures, “the world’s first algae only investment firm.” He’s also founded another video-game company, and was part of a 2017 NSBI-led delegation to a kids’ entertainment summit in Miami.
I asked NSBI how Drage was able to attend, given his history. Spokesperson Emily Neil said only that Drage’s company successfully navigated a “criteria-based application process.” NSBI would not address Drage’s legal history and why it didn’t disqualify him from getting money for Orpheus in 2013.
By spring 2017, Mary Wood was seeking a conclusion in her drawn-out legal pursuit against Drage for the two mortgages she backed. On May 2, the day before a scheduled hearing, Drage sent a letter to the judge and Wood’s lawyer, claiming he had been unaware of the court date. And besides, he was now working in British Columbia. “I am only in Nova Scotia briefly on return visits ‘home’ similar to the way an oil worker might work in the oil sands even though his ‘home’ is NS, NB or Newfoundland,” he wrote.
He then painted a sad portrait of his current financial situation.
“I am currently involved in 4 separate lawsuits all stemming from the failure of the business [Mortgage Opportunities],” he wrote. “I am struggling financially and doing everything I can, including taking a job away from family, to be able to resolve things.”
The court didn’t accept his excuses and issued a default judgement three days later, ordering Drage to repay Wood more than $200,000. As of this publication he has yet to return a single dollar, and Wood’s options for recouping her money are limited. Garnishing wages requires a regular paycheque from an employer. Assets can be seized in cases like this, but only if they’re in the debtor’s name, and Drage’s house, for instance, is in his wife’s name. Regardless, further legal action requires more money that Wood doesn’t have. First she lost her savings to Drage, then her private pension went bust, and her only financial reserve now, she says, is a £4,000 funeral fund. Now in her early 70s, she lives with her daughter in Exeter, and relies on the charity of friends as her sight continues to fade. “It does look pretty hopeless,” she says.
In February 2018, I called Dan Doherty, whom Wood had supposedly given $100,000 in 2005 for a mortgage through Mortgage Opportunities, and found out a jaw-dropping piece of information about that loan. I emailed Wood right away to let her know. Doherty, I told her, said that he and his wife had backed out of the deal back in 2005. They never took Wood’s $100,000. “We didn’t have a really good feeling for him,” Doherty said of Drage.
Suddenly, Wood realized that though Drage had given her a document with the Dohertys’ signatures, no one had witnessed the signing. In January 2013, when Drage missed an interest payment from the Dohertys, Drage told her it was because their son had died, and that he didn’t want to hassle the couple for the money at such a distressing time. Now it turned out Drage had never given them the loan in the first place.
“You have to admire the gall of the guy,” she wrote me back. “I feel very angry and foolish that I was duped so easily.”
arlier this year, I drove to Drage’s large, beige-brick house in a quiet, leafy Halifax subdivision. I sat in my car, hoping someone would come outside. After reading through hundreds of pages from Drage’s myriad lawsuits, I assumed he doesn’t answer his door when strangers come knocking. (One delivery man failed to serve Drage with legal documents despite visiting the house three times.)
After a few minutes, I walked toward the house. There were four vehicles in the driveway: two BMWs, a blue minivan, and a car under a cover.
That’s odd, I thought, since Drage claimed to be broke.
A tall, thin teenager, presumably one of Drage’s children, answered the door when I knocked. He said Drage was away and probably wouldn’t have access to phone or email.
I asked where he was.
“New York maybe?”
*A previous version of this story implied that the change from five game episodes to 10 was a direct result of Willie Stevenson’s involvement and expansion of the game’s scope.
Words – Quentin Casey
Quentin Casey is a journalist based in Mahone Bay, N.S. He writes regularly for the Financial Post, Atlantic Business, and Saltscapes. He recently won the Robbie Robertson Dartmouth Book Award for his 2017 book, The Sea Was In Their Blood: The Disappearance of the Miss Ally’s Five-Man Crew.
Photography – Meghan Tansey Whitton
Illustrations – Nick Brunt