Edward Snowden joined an online "elite real estate investment club" Saturday afternoon, spoke for several minutes about whistleblowing, called out one of the hosts for allegedly running a Ponzi scheme, then logged out in one of the more bizarre online conferences in recent memory.
Part of the conference was hosted by a man named Sunil "The Wealthy Cop" Tulsiani, who had been twice “quasi-criminally” charged in 2015 with violating a lifetime ban on trading securities that had been imposed by the Ontario Securities Commission in 2011 due to the role of Tulsiani and his Private Investment Club (PIC) in a $4.5 million “Ponzi scheme.” In 2017 the Manitoba Securities Commission publicly warned against following Tulsiani’s investment advice: “We put out the warning because we have concerns based on the advertisement and his previous history.”
Before Snowden joined, Tulsiani was trying to sell $47 tickets to a "VIP" session of the conference. While pitching the VIP session, Tulsiani repeatedly said, “If there was a gun to your head saying you have to find [the money]...you’ll find it,” included as a response to an audience member who said in the group chat that she couldn’t afford the entry fee.
In the five and a half hours leading up to Snowden’s appearance, the majority of Tulsiani’s interactions with the Zoom attendees were gimmicks such as waving a $100 bill and asking attendees to “dance” to win it. Others involved requesting participants to fill the group chat with comments on “how much they love” him (and that women send him “flying kisses”). Tulsiani also individually invited viewers to join him in “plerking”—an awkward portmanteau of play and work that he claimed to have made his license plate—“for the rest of their lives.” Another speaker, Daniel Char, walked onstage to raining money, waved around a stack of bills as he spoke, and occasionally threw some of it in the air as he discussed the “zero money down” “wealth cycle” he named after himself.
While the Private Investment Club meeting began at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, the timing of Snowden’s headline appearance was purposely obscured for “security” reasons despite continual questions from the hundreds of attendees. Tulsiani requested that participants “please stop asking what time Ed is coming on.”
After explaining that Edward Snowden’s history of whistleblowing should inspire the members of his investment club to “kill the virus” of “I can’t afford it,” Tulsiani would open the interview with a perfunctory question on how accurate Oliver Stone’s portrayal was in the movie Snowden. Snowden quickly pivoted: “Just before I connected, I had a friend reach out to me and tell me they heard things on this conference, like someone saying that they couldn’t afford this [and] the host saying ‘Find a way to afford it,’” Snowden said.
Snowden then changed his screen to the headline image of Tulsiani in a 2017 CBC article describing his involvement in a Ponzi scheme. "As a whistleblower, it is my obligation, both personally and professionally, to ask: Is this you?” Snowden asked.
Tulsiani twice affirmed that he was the subject of the article, and then Snowden cautioned the audience: “The things that I’ve heard tonight make me very uncomfortable with this event...But my advice to everyone on this call tonight—everyone looking at this—is look up what you’re getting involved in...think hard about if you want to continue with this. Because, for me, ladies and gentlemen, for tonight, I don’t. Thank you so much and good night.”
After Snowden’s abrupt exit from the interview, Tulsiani paused the meeting for several minutes, during which a hot mic led to an exclamation of a “wasted fucking day” and someone ordering a medium iced coffee over an intercom.
Upon return, Tulsiani blamed Snowden’s exit on a “clickbait article” that did not properly clarify that he and his Private Investment Club (PIC) simply played a role in—as opposed to being convicted in—the scheme. And that avoiding his lawyer’s advice to change PIC’s name was proof of his integrity: “I want you to know that I’m pretty smart, and if I wanted to disappear I would have," Tulsiani said. "If I stole millions of dollars, I would not be here...I was never charged criminally...The article says 'man named,' not that he did it. That article talks about securities and all that kind of stuff."
Tulsiani did not respond to a request for comment sent Sunday night. Tulsiani’s LinkedIn profile still has an advertisement for Snowden’s appearance as its header photo; a photo of him with Oprah is his profile picture.
All of this is pretty bizarre for a lot of reasons. Among them is why Snowden was talking at this get-rich-quick conference in the first place. In a now-deleted tweet, Snowden announced that he would be joining Tulsiani a week later to “talk about the idea of a wealthy society, the ethics of sacrifice, and whether—knowing what I do today—I’d do it all over again.” At the beginning of his statement, Snowden said he was booked for the conference by his speaking agents, and said "they told me it was a wealth summit, said there was going to be a wealthy audience. This is an unusual audience for me … I was excited to have this conversation. I wrote a whole speech on this idea of wealth. How does it work for us, how does it work against us, and what is the issue in this unequal society?"
After Snowden's appearance, one of Tulsiani’s “millionaires,” Angelo Mylonakis, suggested “legal action” unless Snowden publicly apologized for his criticism. Tulsiani, on the other hand, warned his club members not to criticize Snowden and said, “We were snowed in today...[applause]...but this is not going to slow down me or my plerking.”