Friday, October 9, 2009

Judge hands 13-year jail term for what he calls biggest fraud in Canada

MONTREAL — A 13-year prison term imposed on Vincent Lacroix, described by a judge Friday as the author of the biggest financial scandal in Canadian history, was scant consolation for some of the people who fell prey to his dishonesty.

Pierre Gravel was one of the 9,200 victims of the $100-million scam, and lost $300,000 in his dealings with the former head of Norbourg Inc. He said he does not believe justice was served with the sentence.

"The damages caused far exceed the millions of dollars," Gravel said outside the courtroom after Lacroix's sentence had been handed down.

"We're talking about lives that have been completely broken. One of my friends lost $900,000. He spent nine months in hospital, suffered depression and has never recovered. You can't measure that in money."

So many of Lacroix's victims turned up at the courthouse for the sentencing that authorities had to free up another room so they could watch it via a video hook-up.

Jean-Guy Houle was bitter about the 13-year sentence after Lacroix robbed him of $195,000, but he was blaming the country's laws, not Justice Richard Wagner of Quebec Superior Court.

"The judge says in his ruling the country's financial markets were shaken by this," Houle said. "And he gets 13 years? He'll end up serving 11 or 12 months and then he'll be freed, while the investors will struggle the rest of their lives."

Wagner excoriated Lacroix as he stopped just short of imposing the maximum 14-year term, although he did order the sentence to run consecutively to the five-year term the accused previously received for securities violations related to the same crimes.

That decision means that if he gets early parole, Lacroix could be out of jail by the fall of 2011.

"Evidence shows Vincent Lacroix's acts resulted in a shortfall of $100 million for 9,200 investors and shook financial markets while at the same time causing moral damages to victims of this unprecedented financial scandal in Canadian judicial history," Wagner said in his ruling.

"The court is of the opinion that the scope of the fraud, its duration and complexity, the premeditation, and the devastating consequences on the for an exemplary sentence."

The sentencing came about three weeks after Lacroix surprised everyone by pleading guilty to 200 fraud-related charges.

The Crown was seeking the maximum sentence of 14 years in prison, while Lacroix's lawyer countered that a sentence of between 10 and 12 years would be sufficient.

Lacroix begged for forgiveness when he appeared at his sentencing hearing a few weeks ago, saying he "infinitely" regretted his actions.

"I ask you once again for 9,200 pardons, but I am aware of your anger and your frustration," Lacroix told the court.

"My objective is to help you find your savings. Consumed by numbers, I forgot my human side."

Lacroix's lawyer, Marie-Helene Giroux, called the sentence "fair."

"The judge made the message very clear that he believes more severe sentences should be given to economic crimes," Giroux said.

But she said she is looking at the possibility of an appeal because neither she nor the Crown asked for the sentence to run consecutively to Lacroix's other five-year sentence.

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