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Why detectives suspect foul play in disappearance of GTA lawyer accused of mortgage fraud

On the night of March 3, in the middle of a treacherous snowstorm, Isabella Dan stepped out of her Markham, Ont., condominium and into a Porsche Cayenne parked out front. 

Surveillance footage shows she got in willingly before the car drove off.

That was the last time the 53-year-old real estate lawyer was seen, and detectives have now confirmed to CBC News that they believe Dan has met with foul play.

CBC News first reported about Dan’s mysterious disappearance last month, shedding light on the months before through publicly available financial and court documents.

New documents are now painting a picture of further challenges Dan was facing at the time she went missing. CBC News has learned that when she disappeared, Dan was facing allegations of professional misconduct and complaints from clients accusing her of fraud and mishandling their money. The revelations are contained in court filings from the Law Society of Ontario (LSO) — the regulatory body that oversees lawyers. 

Last seen during drop-off

Meanwhile, police investigators tell CBC News there are troubling signs Dan may not have planned her own disappearance.

“When officers went to her condominium they found there was still food in the residence. There were items left behind that’s out of character for her that she’d normally take with her,” said Det. Sgt. Courtney Coulson of the York Regional Police Homicide Unit.

“Other stuff that makes us believe that she’s met foul play is that her financial activity — bank accounts that we’re aware of and her phone activity — has completely dropped off.”

The Porsche Cayenne that Dan got into on March 3 at about 8:22 p.m. belonged to a business associate of hers, said Coulson.

A photograph of Detective Sgt. Courtney Coulson with York Regional Police's Homicide Unit. He is investigating the disappearance of Isabella Dan.
Det. Sgt. Courtney Coulson, with York Regional Police’s Homicide Unit, is investigating the disappearance of Isabella Dan. The unit now suspects Dan met with foul play. (Martin Trainor/CBC News)

“We were able to determine that her associate dropped off Isabella at an unknown location where she was supposed to meet with another unknown person,” Coulson told CBC News.

That associate has provided a statement to police, however investigators say they still don’t know precisely where Dan was dropped off and are looking at two locations.

“We believe that area was along Hwy 7 between Warden Avenue and Leslie Street in the city of Markham, or along Yonge Street between York Mills and Eglinton in the city of Toronto.”

Beyond that pick-up and drop-off, investigators don’t know Dan’s whereabouts.

“That’s where it goes dark for us,” Coulson said.

A wide shot of the high-rise condo near Highway 7 and Warden in Markham where Isabella Dan lived before her disappearance. She was last seen getting into a Porsche Cayenne outside her building the night of March 3.
Dan was last seen getting into a Porsche Cayenne outside her building in Markham near Highway 7 and Warden on the night of March 3. (Farrah Merali/CBC News)

Allegations of mortgage fraud, missing money

Documents show the LSO recently obtained a court order to be appointed trustee of Dan’s law practice — allowing it to take control of bank accounts and client files.

A spokesperson for the LSO said it had no comment on the case, but told CBC News that in general a trusteeship can happen in a number of scenarios.

“Trustee Services protects the interests and property of clients of incapacitated, deceased, suspended or revoked licensees, or licensees who have abandoned their practices or who have otherwise ceased to practice or provide legal services,” the statement reads.

The documents also mention complaints the LSO received about Dan.

A photograph of the inside of Isabella Dan's law practice showing redacted legal documents on a desk and redacted computer screens.
The Law Society of Ontario has been appointed trustee of Dan’s law practice. This photograph taken from court filings from when the LSO applied for the trusteeship, shows redacted documents inside the office. (Toronto Superior Court of Justice documents)

“The Law Society has received 3 complaints and is investigating allegations that Ms. Dan took client trust funds, acted in a conflict of interest, committed mortgage fraud, and has not accounted to clients for their money,” according to the LSO’s filings to Toronto’s Superior Court of Justice.

The court files don’t say how much money is alleged to have been taken or how much the alleged frauds may total.

The LSO’s court application went uncontested. The allegations have not been tested in court and none of the complainants’ identities are contained in the documents. 

Police did not comment on Dan’s legal issues or finances involving her practice, and would only say that they are continuously receiving financial records and are reviewing them.

‘Mysterious’ personal life

Investigators told CBC News that while they’ve been able to interview many of Dan’s business associates, they have yet to connect with her friends.

“We haven’t really been able to identify anyone that strictly knows her in her personal life,” said Coulson. “So her personal life is very mysterious to us.”

Police confirmed Isabella Dan went by other names, including Rui Dan and Rourun Dan. CBC News has learned she also went by the name Rachel Dan. 

Dan lived alone and, according to Coulson, did not have a significant other or any children, and her family lived in China.

Court documents show her brother in China reached out to the Law Society of Ontario on March 17 — two weeks after she was last seen — appealing for help in trying to locate his sister.

A picture of Isabella Dan with short hair and bangs, wearing a black blazer. Her friend Julie describes her as "outgoing" and "full of life."
A photo of Dan taken from WeChat. Her friend Julie describes her as ‘outgoing’ and ‘full of life.’ (Submitted by Julie)

CBC News has learned that private investigator Brian King, president and CEO of King International Advisory Group Inc., has since been retained by a professional association to investigate Dan’s disappearance. 

“Right now we can’t rule out foul play or whether she disappeared purposely,” King told CBC News.

King has interviewed numerous people associated with Dan, but he declined to comment further on the case or reveal who his client is.

Meanwhile, police are asking anyone who may have dash cam footage from March 3 between 8:22 p.m. and approximately 8:45 p.m. from Highway 7 between Warden and Leslie, and from Yonge Street between York Mills and Eglinton, to contact police.

Investigators are also still looking to speak to anyone who knew Isabella Dan personally.

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