Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Vincent Lacroix Represents Everything Wrong in our Jusitce System

Last week Vincent Lacroix, the Norbourg fraudster was released to a halfway house after serving just one-sixth of his 8½-year sentence in jail for a crime that severely damaged and in many cases, destroyed the retirement savings of over 15,000 Quebeckers, mostly seniors.

His saga highlights the utter failure of our justice system to deliver any semblance of justice. It is a cautionary tale of the systemic failure of our police, courts and of our penal system in general.

It highlights everything that is broken in the administration of justice in this country.

Vincent Lacroix engineered a fraud of some $130 million way back in 2005. His investors were mostly elderly, unsophisticated Quebeckers, apt to listen to their professional investment advisers, who placed their money into Norbourg, a company run by Mr. Lacroix which sold various investment funds.
Mr. Lacroix had done a stint in the province's powerful Caisse de Depot and after leaving for various other of investment-like positions, struck out on his own in 1998. His Quebec pedigree appealed to many francophone investors and brokers alike and the money flowed in.

Mr. Lacroix proved once again the old adage, that nobody can defraud you faster than one of your own.

Lacroix made irregular withdrawals from the funds placed in his trust and forged documents to hide the transactions. The money was used to buy other companies, pay employees, with a great deal of the cash just plain disappearing.

The Quebec regulatory agency, the AMF got involved after complaints and an audit revealed that just $70 million of the original $205 million originally invested remained, leaving investors high and dry.

This all happened before the great market meltdown last year that flushed out fraudsters like Bernie Madoff. The market at the time was doing quite well.

After an investigation, he was indicted on security violations and went to trial in 2007.

After a farcical trial in which Mr. Lacroix defended himself ineptly, revealing a decidedly unbalanced state of mind, he was finally sentenced to 12½ years in prison. After a failed appeal, the court did however reduce his sentence to 8½ years.

In the meantime the RCMP was conducting their own fraud investigation (which took 4 years to complete) and while Lacroix was in prison they indicted him on other fraud charges.
That trial is scheduled to take place at this fall.

Serving just one-sixth of his sentence, Lacroix was released to a halfway house last week. He spent about a year and a half in jail for a crime that impacted the lives of thousands of people and which will continues to have ramifications for the rest of their lives.

The majority of the investor were not rich to begin with, most worked their entire life to save a couple of hundred thousand dollars to finance a modest and safe retirement.
The financial disaster wrecked upon them by Lacroix meant that most had to go back to work, mowing grass, doing home repairs, or working as Wal-Mart greeters. Some were forced to sell their homes and move into rentals or worse still, move in with their children.

Lacroix was released, as officials explained, because the law is the law, non-violent first time offenders are eligible for accelerated parole. This, in spite of the fact that he is currently under indictment for fraud.
The official response- "He hasn't been convicted, so that fact is irrelevant."

And so the investors who were fleeced look on in disgust and horror, the short period of his incarceration another cruel stab in the heart. Mr Lacroix's quick exit from prison another betrayal, another disappointment. The protest vigil held in front of the halfway house that accepted Mr. Lacroix is evidence that the wounds are still fresh.

Aside from the overwhelming enmity that the victims feel for Mr. Lacroix, they are also enraged by;
  • The incompetent financial regulators who allowed Mr. Lacroix to exist. Unlike Earl Jones was Norbourg licensed.
  • The incompetent AMF and RCMP who took years to prosecute.
  • The uninterested court system that barely considered the magnitude of the tragedy in punishing Mr. Lacroix.
  • The ridiculous parole system that allowed him to escape any real measure of punishment by awarding him early parole.
It's perhaps unfair to compare the Canadian justice system with the American justice system, Canadians are by nature more forgiving, but there are some telling differences that are fair to examine.
While we may consider the American overly harsh and unforgiving, the vast majority of Canadians view our system as even more flawed, with sentences much too lenient.

One thing that nobody can deny is the relative efficiency displayed by the Americans justice system in moving the process along.

Bernie Madoff was investigated, tried, convicted and dispatched to jail in a matter of seven months! It took over three years to send Lacroix to jail. The RCMP investigation culminating in the charges Lacroix currently faces, took over 4 years to complete! If convicted, he'll likely be jailed six years after the fact.
As the saying goes "Justice delayed is justice denied."

Lacroix is not the only high profile crook to spend years free before finally being convicted.
Between 1993 and 1998, Garth Drabinsky and his partner Myron Gottlieb, executives of the theater company Livent engineered a fraud in which they cooked the books of the company, resulting in misstated company profits. The company was later sold at an inflated price based on the fraudulent numbers. In March of this year, 16 years after the beginning of the fraud, the two were finally convicted. As of today they still haven't been sentenced or sent to jail! Arrrgggh!!!!

Drabinsky is currently working on the CBC's program Canada's next Triple Sensation, acting as an on-air judge, giving advice and coaching contestants. What Chutzpah!
Could you imagine Bernie Madoff offering advice on CNBC while awaiting sentencing? What on earth was the CBC thinking?

Is it unreasonable to expect that by now, the only involvement Mr. Drabinsky would have had in the entertainment field, would be the organization of a talent show in Kingston Pen?

Don't think that it is only rich people that get to delay their day in Canadian courts. Any cynical person charged with a crime can engineer delaying tactic after delaying tactic, with the full cooperation of judges and lawyers.

An accused Quebec drunk driver, Guy Gagnon has successfully postponed his sentencing 32 33 times! Four years ago he ran down a child while under the influence. It isn't that complicated a case, he's argued everything under the sun to delay his imprisonment, including a demand for a new trial because the crown prosecutor who won his conviction has been appointed a judge. He's been out on bail all this time.
How do you think the victim's family views this farce?

Somewhere along the line Canada's penal system warped from being a system of punishment, to a system of rehabilitation. It seems that the old adage -'Do the crime-do the time' does not apply north of the border.

Canada's prison sentences are among the lightest in the world and coupled with one of the most lenient parole system in the world, criminals, especially first timers, spend little time in jail.

Whether punishment serves as a deterrent is perhaps beside the point. Reasonable sentences are crucial if the public is expected to respect and trust the justice system. When victims of crime see the perpetrators of their misery punished, it serves as cathartic salve and provides a form of satisfactory closure.

When criminals are let off with a slap on the wrist, it sends the message that society views the pain and suffering of the victim as unimportant.

Can things change? Probably not.

When the Conservatives recently proposed harsher sentences for paedophiles, the Bloque Quebecois party stymied the legislation.

Why? Because that's what they do.

If our dysfunctional Parliament can't agree on tougher sentences for the most egregious of crimes, how will they ever impose harsher sentences for financial scoundrels?

The administration of justice system remains one of the great flaws in our country.

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