Ontario lawyer facing discipline after filing $229-million lawsuit against sugar baby he was 'obsessed' with
Experts say websites that offer "sugar dating" are harder to enforce when the activity involved with the relationships are implied instead of being set out explicitly.
Published Wednesday, February 8, 2023 4:53PM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, February 8, 2023 8:24PM EST
An Ontario lawyer who filed a $229-million lawsuit against his former “sugar baby” for alleged fraud had his case dismissed after the court found he'd become "obsessed" with the young woman when she attempted to end their arrangement.
Azmat Ramal-Shah is now facing disciplinary proceedings by the Law Society of Ontario (LSO) to determine whether his actions constitute professional misconduct.
In 2016, Ramal-Shah, 30, met the 18-year-old University of Ottawa student on the dating site ‘Seeking Arrangements,’ described as a premier dating website for “sugar babies” and “sugar daddies," according to court documents reviewed by CTV News Toronto.
According to the court, the woman, who CTV News Toronto has chosen to identify as 'KJ,' agreed to keep Ramal-Shah company "virtually" — she would listen to his stresses and provide him friendship, and Ramal-Shah would assist her with expenses.
“There was no discussion of ‘a regular dating relationship’ at this time,” KJ said in a sworn affidavit submitted to the courts. “We agreed upon an arrangement where I would not seek other sugar daddies. He decided to send me gifts in exchange for extensive conversations and photographs.”
However, the January decision details that Ramal-Shah soon claimed he was “in love” with KJ.
“He would often talk about his future and the future he would like to have with me,” KJ said in the affidavit. “I would entertain his fantasies as it was what he wanted out of the arrangement.”
KJ states in her account she saw no red flags during the first year of the arrangement, but after meeting Ramal-Shah in person for the first and only time, she claims he started to push her boundaries.
Nearly five years after the two first connected online, Ramal-Shah filed a $229-million, 340-paragraph lawsuit against KJ and her family, claiming she had deceived him and defrauded him of money.
While Ramal-Shah’s claim was dismissed in January by a Justice of the Peace who deemed it “an abuse of process,” legal experts and advocates say the lawsuit is emblematic of an attitude of entitlement over sugar babies, escorts, or sex workers’ time and the dangers they face when attempting to draw professional boundaries.
CTV News Toronto reached out to both KJ and Ramal-Shah for comment. Both parties declined.
A VIRTUAL ARRANGEMENT
It was in the weeks after the two met for dinner in Ottawa that KJ alleges Ramal-Shah’s behaviour began to make her feel unsafe.
“At the beginning of 2017, [Ramal-Shah] became possessive and would interrogate [KJ] about who she was spending time with. He threatened to ruin her reputation and would call her harsh names such as “wh**e,” the decision states, adding that KJ subsequently became “very anxious."
In March 2018, KJ attempted to sever all connections to the lawyer, blocking him on all social media accounts, the decision states, and started making up excuses to avoid spending time with the man.
“[She] lied to him stating that she couldn’t meet with him on two occasions – first, because she had broken her leg, and on another, she had been diagnosed and was being treated for cancer, both of which were not true,” the decision reads.
KJ stated during proceedings that these excuses were untrue, and she had not been diagnosed with cancer, but that she said them in an effort to avoid meeting Ramal-Shah in-person again.
“On numerous occasions, I said I was no longer interested in talking to him if there was no benefit for me,” KJ said in her affidavit.
But the court alleges Ramal-Shah refused to cease communications, using fake social media accounts under the usernames ‘lawyerjustice123,’ ‘justiceseeker96,’ ‘cancertruth123,’ and ‘lawyers123456’ to contact KJ, her friends, family, mother’s professional colleagues, mother’s professional clients, and new boyfriend.
“I’ve tried reasoning with [KJ] but I don’t think she ever loved me, this [has] all been about exploiting me for money,” an email from Ramal-Shah to KJ’s mother presented as evidence in court, reads.
“At this point, I don’t believe there was a broken leg or surgeons or chemotherapy,” Ramal-Shah wrote. “I really thought [KJ] had cancer – clearly I was mistaken and was a victim of fraud.”
Within those emails, Ramal-Shah urged KJ’s mother to offer him a settlement to “keep [the issue] out of the courts.”
Eventually, KJ’s family contacted police, retained legal counsel, and sent Ramal-Shah multiple letters “asking him to cease-and-desist communications with [their family],” court documents state.
The decision states Ramal-Shah did not comply with these requests, and instead, mocked them, calling the KJ’ legal counsel “a shopping mall lawyer.”
In April 2021, the LSO filed a Notice of Application against Ramal-Shah alleging professional misconduct. The proceedings are ongoing, and Ramal-Shah is permitted to continue practicing until a resolution is reached, the LSO told CTV News Toronto.
On Dec. 7, 2021, Ramal-Shah filed a lawsuit against KJ and her parents seeking $229-million in damages.
Ramal-Shah’s statement of claim alleged KJ conjured “false representations,” such as a broken leg, the death of her aunt, and being treated for cancer, that caused him to continue to send her money.
“Had [Ramal-Shah] known that [KJ] did not really consider him his boyfriend then he would not have helped her financially,” his statement of claim reads.
A written argument presented to the courts by legal representation Charles Baker on behalf of the family accused Ramal-Shah of using “the courts as his latest, ultimate instrument of revenge.”
“The Statement of Claim seeks damages of $229-million, is 140 pages, 359 paragraphs and, at its core, is a case of unrequited love where the then approximately 30-year-old plaintiff became obsessed with the then 18-year-old [...] whom he met on the online dating site,” the document reads.
Ultimately, Smith dismissed Ramal-Shah’s claim on the basis that more than two years had passed since Ramal-Shah should have reasonably first suspected he was being lied to, and therefore the limitation period had expired.
Moreover, Smith asserted that Ramal-Shah’s claims against the KJ family were without merit, and that he should have reasonably expected to make payments to KJ when starting a relationship using a “sugar daddies and sugar babies” dating site. The Justice said "no credible evidence was presented that [the KJ'] took any action that caused any harm whatsoever to [Ramal-Shah]."
Instead, Smith said Ramal-Shah had been left disappointed over the “extent” of his relationship with KJ and "became obsessed with her when she ended their relationship."
Smith deemed the lawsuit to be “an abuse of process” and ordered Ramal-Shah to pay costs to the KJ’ family in the amount of $15,616 as a reimbursement for costs.
Sandra Wesley, executive director of Stella, a Canadian advocacy organization for sex workers, said it’s important to note that while Ramal-Shah was ordered to reimburse KJ’s family’s costs, ultimately, the case was dismissed “on the basis of not respecting court delays.”
“The judge points to the frivolity of the case, based on the fact that he was asking for over $200-million and submitted hundreds of pages of evidence,” Wesley said. “We’ll never know how the case would have been decided if Ramal-Shah was not clearly vexatious, late, and had not involved innocent people like KJ’s parents.”
“It’s super important that no sex worker hears [this] story and thinks they can get money from their sugar daddy in court or that courts have recognized sugar babies as legitimate somehow,” she continued.
Wesley said the case does provide an opportunity to talk about clients “harassing women in impunity.”
“Everyone is complicit when they create a social climate where ‘I’ll tell your family and employers that you’re a wh**e’ is a threat that carries actual weight,” she said.
Ellie Ade Kur, who sits on the Board of Directors at Maggie’s Toronto, a harm reduction organization that offers outreach and supportive services to sex workers in Toronto, told CTV News Toronto that, in this case, a lack of regulations in place for escorts or sugar babies put KJ in a vulnerable position.
“It's not that sex workers, escorts or sugar babies aren't able to set boundaries with people – it's that people don't respect those boundaries because of the stigma, discrimination and criminalization of sex work,” Ade Kur said.
Within her work, Ade Kur said she often witnesses responses that mirror Ramal-Shah’s when sugar babies, escorts or sex workers attempt to draw boundaries with their clients.
“The idea that this man threatened to ruin her reputation, he would call her a wh**e, call her slurs is because sex work itself is still so heavily criminalized and policed [and] a lot of people with poor intentions will take advantage of that,” she explained.
While KJ had the ability to seek legal protections from Ramal-Shah, Ade Kaur said that, in most cases, those who offer sex work or escort services – especially criminalized services – do not.
“Even if we’re talking about licensed services, people can lose their kids, they can be pushed out of their jobs or isolated from their families and friends,” she said.” The effects can be very detrimental,-- sex workers have gone missing, or been murdered or been brutalized by police directly.”
Decriminalization and de-stigmatization would do much to solve that issue, she said, as it would allow sex workers to freely seek protections without fear of reprisal.
“Pushing towards decriminalization is so important because, in cases like this, it would make sure that sex workers and escorts have access to some form of legal or health and safety protections.”