The public remains thoroughly confused and angered by the court's handling of fraudster Vincent Lacroix.
His original 12 year sentence has been hacked down to five years by the appeals court, resulting in his immediate eligibility for parole, in accordance to the ridiculous rule that allows non-violent first time offenders to seek bail after having served just one-sixth of the sentence.
Ironically, this whole sad fiasco may work for the better and we may yet see Mr. Lacroix rot in jail for a very long time!
To understand how this can be, it's important to review what has happened up to now and how those circumstances will affect the future.
When Mr. Lacroix's shenanigans came to light, he came under the scrutiny of the RCMP, who opened a fraud investigation, as well as the AMF (Autorité des marchés financiers), Quebec's regulatory agency, which oversees stock markets and the companies and agents that sell financial products to the public.
The AMF was to first to act, as the the RCMP fraud investigation dragged on for four long years.
Too bad, since the more serious fraud accusation carried a much stiffer sentence.
At any rate the AMF's prosecution and the potential conviction of Mr. Lacroix would in no way impact the RCMP fraud investigation, they are two different and distinct crimes.
Mr. Lacroix was sent to trial facing 51 accusations of violating the Securities Act by influencing or attempting to influence the market price or the value of securities by means of unfair, improper or fraudulent practices (27 counts); and by providing the AMF with documents containing misrepresentations (24 counts).
The Court of Québec (Criminal and Penal Division), district of Montréal, found Vincent Lacroix guilty of the 51 charges filed against him by the AMF, on March 9, 2006.
Judge Claude Leblond handed down a sentence that totaled 12 years, which consisted of five years less a day for the first 27 accusations (27 counts of attempting to influence the market price or the value of securities illegally), and two 42 month sentences for the the other 24 counts of misrepresentation.
The judge threw the virtual book at Mr. Lacroix. He gave him the most time that he could, in fact he gave him too much, as we would find out later. The first part of the sentence, 5 years, less day, is the maximum allowed in Provincial court. Sentences in excess of five years are subject to a jury trial in Federal court.
The judge also ruled that the three elements of the sentence were to be served consecutively (one after the other) which meant that Lacroix would serve 5 years, then 42 months and then a further 42 months, totalling 12 years in all.
Mr. Lacroix's lawyer, Mr. Monterosso, argued in appeals court that the sentence was too harsh and the judges agreed that the two 42 months sentences were redundant. They lopped of one of them off and reduced the sentence to eight and a half years.
In a second appeal, before the judges of the Court of Appeal, Mr. Monterosso changed tactics and now argued that the cumulative sentences were illegal and that five years, less a day sentence was all that the court was entitled to impose.
Subsequently, the Court began a lengthy analysis of the legality of consecutive sentences. It concluded that without a law that allows judges to add up the penalties, the practice is not allowed and so again, they reduced the sentence down to the five years less a day.
That is where we are today, with Mr. Lacroix getting out of jail very soon.
The real problem was not with the court, but rather that Mr. Lacroix faced charges that could only bring a maximum of five years in prison.
Had RCMP charge Mr. Lacroix with fraud, he'd of faced fourteen years of imprisonment.
And now here's the interesting part.
The RCMP finally completed their investigation and while in jail, re-arrested Mr. Lacroix and charged him with fraud. He faces trial this fall and if convicted will likely get the maximum 14 years.(if the mood of the previous court is to be considered.)
He will be going back to jail and this time is no longer a first time offender, having already been convicted of the security violations.
As a repeat offender, he will not be eligible for accelerated parole and will in all likelihood serve out the majority of the sentence.