Brian Dicks is running in Humber-Bay of Islands for the Liberals in the May 16 provincial election. Seven years ago, Dicks was president of a short-lived penny stock startup that wanted to grow stevia in Cambodia.
A Liberal candidate in the Newfoundland and Labrador election was president of a Nevada-registered penny-stock company that never made a dime from its plans to grow stevia plants in Cambodia, and saw tens of millions of dollars in market value evaporate nearly as quickly as it appeared.
“I feel that my role with Stevia Nutra was totally above board,” Brian Dicks said in an interview with CBC News.
“It was solid, my performance was solid. I did what was required of me, in my role, to support the company moving forward. So I see nothing in my role with this company that would in any way impact negatively on my ability to move forward in a role with the province.”
Dicks — who is now running to represent Humber-Bay of Islands in the May 16 provincial election — became president of Stevia Nutra in January 2012.
Stevia Nutra was not implicated in any legal or regulatory entanglements during its brief existence.
But the company had business links to a lawyer and financier who would go on to be accused of stock market violations in the U.S. for their work with other penny stock firms around the same time frame.
I see nothing in my role with this company that would in any way impact negatively on my ability to move forward in a role with the province.- Brian Dicks
Stevia Nutra was also touted by a promoter who was later arrested by the FBI on unrelated charges of securities fraud.
Dicks said he and the company had nothing to do with the promotional effort for Stevia Nutra, which suggested the company’s share price “could return you a quick 341%!”
And Dicks said the authorities have never come calling about his time as president of Stevia Nutra.
“There’s been never anything untoward, or any issues raised around the company, or my involvement with it,” he said.
Liberal Leader Dwight Ball told reporters this is a non-issue.
“There’s nothing there,” Ball said during a campaign stop in Corner Brook Tuesday.
“Really, this is an example of a business that wasn’t successful, a business that ran out of money, and in the end, it closed. So that is really the story here, that happened. No wrongdoing at all.”
Approached with business opportunity
Dicks told CBC News his involvement with Stevia Nutra began when he was asked to take a look at a business idea in late 2011.
“It was essentially a development stage agro-company that would see us establishing farming operations in Cambodia to cultivate the natural sweetener stevia,” he said.
Dicks said his research showed “growing global demand for the product and it was a tremendous upside potential for companies that were engaged in growing it.”
Reverse takeover of car rental company
The company that would become Stevia Nutra was incorporated in Nevada in 2010, and was called AAA Best Car Rental Inc.
AAA Best Car Rental Inc. was based in Paterson, N.J., about a half-hour drive from Manhattan.
It planned to offer discounted car rental services, by acquiring late-model vehicles from used car auctions.
But that idea never got rolling.
On Jan. 4, 2012, according to filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the company “underwent a change of control and a change in management.”
In a reverse takeover, Dicks became president, and a Newfoundland and Labrador-registered company he controlled became a shareholder of the newly rechristened Stevia Nutra.
Stevia Nutra’s business address was a residential duplex in Corner Brook.
Two months later, Stevia Nutra reported reaching a deal, through a subsidiary, to lease 20 hectares of land in Cambodia for growing stevia.