Toronto Lawyer’s $2 Million Dollar Fraud Conviction Upheld

GEO#1Yesterday the Ontario Court of Appeal dismissed Toronto corporate lawyer, Remy Boghossian’s appeal from his 2015 conviction for an almost $2 million dollar fraud on the Royal Bank of Canada. (R. v. Boghossian, 2017 ONCA 870 CanLII)

The scam involved Mr. Boghossian and two co-accused acquiring a forged TD Canada Trust bank draft for $1,895,751 in February 2011 from an unidentified bank insider at the Mississauga branch of the TD bank. The funds were then deposited into Mr. Boghossian’s trust account, whereafter he purchased, in two separate transactions, Australian-minted gold bullion from a company in Montreal.

Mr. Boghossian’s lawyer argued that his client purchased the gold on behalf of a client, Omar Ali, who was a real estate developer going through a divorce who wanted to hide the money from his wife. He asserted that his client was a victim of the scam and had been duped into participating. The trial judge found that Mr. Ali did not exist and was created to advance the fraud. He held that a strong circumstantial case had been established and that the three accused acted together to knowingly defraud the Royal Bank by presenting a forged TD bank draft.

The court heard that Boghossian’s two accomplices tried to sell some of the gold bars, but a wary gold dealer recognized the “kangaroo” logo on the bars and contacted the police.

What remains a mystery is who the insider at the TD Bank is and where the gold bars are now. Media reports indicate that the police have discontinued their investigation of these two matters.

Mr. Boghossian also appealed his 3 1/2 year sentence, arguing that as his co-accused only received 3 years each, his sentence should be reduced to three years. The Court of Appeal dismissed the sentence appeal saying:

“In our view, the extra six months awarded the appellant does not raise parity concerns. The appellant was a lawyer. His status as a lawyer and the role his status as a lawyer played in the commission of the offence justified treating this as an aggravating factor, warranting a somewhat higher sentence for the appellant. We see no error in the sentence imposed.”

It is expected that the Law Society of Ontario will disbar Mr. Boghossian.

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How “Uncivil” Can a Lawyer be in Court? The Groia Case

GEO_edited-1If you are a litigator in Canada you should know the name “Joe Groia”. He is a masterful legal advocate from Ontario who specializes in securities law. His prominence in the legal profession was capped this week when Groia v. The Law Society of Upper Canada (now the Law Society of Ontario) was argued before the Supreme Court of Canada. (Law Society of Upper Canada v. Joseph Peter Paul Groia, 2012 ONLSHP 94)

Why is Mr. Groia suing Ontario’s Law Society and why would the Supreme Court of Canada agree to hear his case? In June 2012 the Law Society held that Mr. Groia had professionally misconducted himself while defending his client John Felderhof in an action taken against him by the Ontario Securities Commission. You may recall that Mr. Felderhof was second in command at Bre-X Minerals Ltd, the Canadian-owned gold mine in Borneo that turned out to be a fraud, leaving thousands of investors with losses of hundreds of millions of dollars after investing in the bogus company.

Groia’s representation of Mr. Felderhof was second-to-none, as Mr. Felderhof, after 160 days of trial, was acquitted of all charges. However, the Law Society took it upon themselves to call Mr. Groia to account for his allegedly “uncivil” behaviour during the proceedings, conduct so egregious that during the trial, lawyers for the Ontario Securities Commission asked the judge to stop the trial arguing that he had lost jurisdiction by failing to rein in Mr. Groia’s outrageously rude behaviour in the courtroom. That application failed and the trial continued.

Two Ontario courts reviewed and upheld the Law Society’s ruling against Mr. Groia, describing his trial conduct as “unrestrained invective”, excessive rhetoric”, “theatrically excessive”, “sarcastic and petulant”, “more guerrilla theatre than advocacy in court”, and “attacks on the prosecutor’s integrity”.

Nonetheless, it is noteworthy and significant to Mr. Groia’s defence that the trial judge did not hold him in contempt, neither did he report Mr. Groia’s trial behaviour to the Law Society.

Groia, in rebuttal offered the following arguments:

1. He cast no personal aspersions against opposing counsel, but only targeted the Securities Commission and the prosecution;

2. His basis for alleging prosecutorial misconduct was based on his reasonably held views;

3. His language was mischaracterized by the Law Society and the courts;

4. The tone of the trial was an important factor in assessing his conduct, particularly in light of the prosecutor’s behaviour;

5. The Law Society retroactively applied standards of the “civility movement” to his conduct; and

6. His obligation as an effective advocate outstripped any absence of civility.

Without reading the whole of the transcripts of the trial, it is difficult to assess whether Mr. Groia’s behaviour fell so far below the standard of professionalism of a barrister that he ought to have been sanctioned by the Law Society. His original punishment was a two-month suspension of his license to practice law and an order that he pay costs of $250,000. This penalty was later reduced by the courts to a one-month suspension and $200,000 in costs.

Mr. Groia would, of course, argue that even reading the transcripts one would not be in a position to assess the conduct and roles of each of the counsel and judge at the trial and that may very well be true. It’s the old story that “you had to be there” to understand the dynamics.

Media reports from the hearing in the Supreme Court of Canada this week, appear to underscore the high court’s focus on the absence of disapproval from the trial judge, who was best placed to determine whether Mr. Groia’s conduct sunk to a level where he deserved to be chastised or disciplined.

As a trial lawyer in hard-fought cases, I tend to agree that it is not the Law Society’s place to interfere as a back-seat referee in a hotly contested proceeding where an unsuccessful defence will lead to dire consequences for the accused.

The Supreme Court of Canada clearly wants to provide guidance to litigators. We must now wait to see what the Supremes think…

The World’s Richest Lawyers: Part 1

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If you think all lawyers are rich, you’d be wrong. Money Inc. reports that the average salary for lawyers in the United States is $133,000 per year. The average for Canadian lawyers is less than that. But there are a group of lawyers worldwide who have made a fortune from practicing law, not from investments or business activities, but just advising and representing clients.  The list includes a few well-known names and several who fly under the radar.

  1. ALAN DERSHOWITZ  $25 million

A graduate of Harvard Law School in 1962, Dershowitz became a faculty member at Harvard in 1964 and a full professor in 1967. While working as a professor he gained a stellar reputation as a criminal lawyer, representing celebrities such as heavyweight champion Mike Tyson, Queen of Mean and New York hotelier Leona Helmsley, OJ Simpson, Patty Hearst, televangelist Jim Bakker, and Claus Van Bulow, acquitted of murdering his wife. He has also written more than a dozen books.

2. MARK GERAGOS $25 million

Mark Geragos is a “celebrity” lawyer who has acted for Michael Jackson in his sexual molestation trial; Winona Ryder for shoplifting; California politician, Gary Condit, who was suspected of murdering his Washington, DC intern; Susan McDougal , partner of the Clinton’s involved in the Whitewater scandal; Scott Ferguson, convicted of murdering his wife Lacey; and Chris Brown, who pleaded guilty to the assault of his girlfriend Rhianna. Named one of the 100 Most Influential Attorneys in California, he also holds the record for one of the top ten jury verdicts in California for a 2008 award of more than $38 million against a pharmaceutical company

3. WILLIAM LERACH $900 Million

William Lerach specialized in corporate law, specifically  private securities class action lawsuits, the largest being the $7.12 billion he obtained as the lead attorney in the action against Enron. Nicknamed the “King of Pain”, he was reputed to be one of the most feared lawyers in the US during his 30-year career. In 2010 Pulitzer Prize winning journalists, Patrick Dillon and Carl Cannon wrote a book about Lerach called “Circle of Greed: The Spectacular Rise and Fall of the Lawyer Who Brought Corporate America to its Knees”. He no longer practices law after pleading guilty  in 2007 for obstruction of justice, related to a kickback scheme,  and serving a two-year prison sentence. He was disbarred in California in 2009.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Child Custody Dispute Leads to Hitman

GeorgiaLeeLang100Dan Markel worked hard and led a blessed life, until he didn’t. Toronto born and raised, the 41-year-old graduated with a degrees from Harvard, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and Cambridge, capping his academic achievements with a  Juris Doctor degree from Harvard Law School. He practiced white-collar criminal law and civil litigation before he became a tenured professor at Florida State Law School teaching criminal law. He wrote for academic journals and crafted controversial opinion pieces for  prestigious publications including the New York Times, Slate, and The Atlantic. Mr. Markel was an impressive man who was revered by his colleagues.

He was married to Wendi Jill Adelson, also a lawyer and professor at Florida State, and had two young sons. But his happy life began to crumble when his marriage  floundered, followed by a bitter divorce in 2013.  But the worst was yet to come.

In July 2014 Dan Markel pulled into the driveway and garage of his upscale Tallahassee, Florida home, just about to end a call on his cell phone, when he advised the caller that another vehicle was in his driveway. Those were likely Dan Markel’s final words before he was shot in the head. He died the next morning.

At first the police believed his death was related to online criticism he had received or from his legal consulting practice.  Almost immediately rewards totalling $125,000 were announced for information leading to the arrest of Mr. Markel’s assailant, but the case went cold, until last month.

On May 26, 2016 Tallahassee police arrested Sigfredo Garcia in connection with Dan Markel’s death. A “probable cause” affidavit unsealed by the Court indicated that Garcia did not act alone and that as a “hitman”,  his involvement likely stemmed from the contentious child custody matters that lingered from the Adelson/Markel divorce. Court proceedings were pending which could have prevented Ms. Adelson’s parents from carrying on with their grandparent relationship with the couple’s children, based on allegations they were badmouthing Mr. Markel. As well, Ms. Adelson’s desire to change the children’s residence from Tallahassee to Miami was at issue.

Authorities have not yet suggested that Wendi Adelson is a suspect in her ex-husband’s murder, but have indicated that further arrests should be expected. Friends of Dan initially refused to speculate on Ms. Adelson or her family’s involvement in his tragic death, but news of the arrest has prompted several to confirm that all along they believed the high-conflict custody dispute played a part in his murder.

 

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

 

 

 

 

 

 

Legal Tsunami Accompanies Custody Battle

GEO_edited-1The level of vitriol, anger, and violence that finds its way into child custody litigation is beyond frightening, as common sense is displaced by exaggerated allegations, bizarre threats, and all too often, bodily harm or death.

The case of Tiffany and Eric Stevens of Connecticut represents the thin edge of the wedge, a story replete with allegations of infidelity, drug abuse, domestic violence, failed stints in rehab, mental health evaluations, child protection issues, harassment leading to a restraining order, exorbitant gambling debts,a hit man, and police intervention. Whew!

All it took was a five-year marriage and one little girl to create a legal tsunami that saw the Stevens’ in court on 200 occasions, the last being Tiffany Steven’s trial for hiring handyman cum hitman, John McDaid, to kill her husband for a fee of $5,000. When Mr. McDaid told Mr. Stevens of his assignment, the jig was up, and Tiffany was arrested for the attempted murder-for-hire.

But believe me, neither Tiffany, age 39, or Eric, age 49, qualify as “parent of the year”. Mr. Stevens stupidly wrote to his estranged wife saying:

“”I am going to let you bury yourself with your lies and then I am going to shovel the dirt onto your body…I will be dreaming of you laying in our bed with your addict boyfriend, the one that your mom bought us for a wedding present, and wondering to myself if you’re in that bed when they come. Will the mattress be saveable or will it have to be thrown out from all of your blood?”

When will litigants ever figure out that written expletives and threats of violence are a ticket to doomsday? Eric’s behaviour resulted in a restraining order against him and a custody order in favour of Tiffany, while he was saddled with supervised access that apparently never occurred.

Ms. Stevens advised the family court that Eric detonated his Mercedes and her BMW for the insurance money to avoid the wrath of his Mafia creditors. She also said Eric told his insurance company that all of their jewellery had been stolen to access yet more funds to pay gambling debts.

While Eric disavowed the insurance fraud he admitted his gambling debts, and agreed he posted his wife’s contact particulars on a Craigslist sex page.

Ms. Stevens was released on $1 million dollars bail after her arrest and continued to parent their daughter. The jury deadlocked during her first trial in December 2014 but this week she admitted the lesser charge of inciting injury to person and received five years probation and a ten-year suspended prison sentence.

The prosecutors threw in the towel in light of evidence, albeit from a convict, that Eric Stevens “set-up” Ms. Stevens to take a fall for a murder-for-hire that never was.

The custody battle rages on as Mr. Stevens remains committed to ensuring a relationship with his daughter. Mr. Stevens’ last word is that his ex-wife “bought” her slap on the wrist, or rather her wealthy father did. He has been self-represented for some time.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Divorce Fraud Leads to 17 years in Prison

GEO#1California businessman Steven Zinnel, age 50, thought he could get away with cheating his wife, his two teenage children, and the bankruptcy court, but he was wrong….boy was he wrong!

Zinnel and his wife, of Gold River, separated in 1999. By 2001 their uncoupling got even more ugly when he told his wife she would get nothing, no assets or support because he was filing for bankruptcy.

Zinnel systematically funnelled millions of dollars into the names of other persons and true to his word, filed for voluntary bankruptcy in 2005. He also laundered money through shell corporations in order to conceal his true income.

Shockingly, he did all this with the assistance of lawyer, Derian Eidson, age 50, who used her trust account, her personal account and a corporation she owned to return the funds to Zinnel after his discharge from bankruptcy.

But he didn’t stop there…Zinnel went on to initiate an FBI investigation of his ex-wife, displaying a hatred that knew no bounds and that eventually led to his own demise.

In the course of the investigation, authorities uncovered Mr. Zinnel’s bankruptcy and divorce fraud. Before U.S. District Court Judge Troy Nunley he was sentenced to 17 years and eight months in prison, fined $500,000, and ordered to disgorge the sum of $2.8 million to the state.

Judge Nunley in bankruptcy court and the 3rd District Court of Appeal in respect of his divorce matter condemned Zinnel for his narcissistic arrogance, and found that while he was articulate and charismatic he used those traits for his own selfish purposes.

Yorba Linda lawyer Ms. Eidson, was disbarred and sentenced to 10 years and one month in prison for money laundering. She was also fined $200,000. Her undoing began when she commenced an intimate relationship with Zinnel and became a victim of her own greed.

As for Mr. Zinnel, his phone call to his son when first imprisoned shows that he still doesn’t get it…he told his son that he was “railroaded” and blamed his ex- wife!

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

DISBARRED THE SERIES: GARTH DRABINSKY

GEO_edited-1How far the mighty fall….Garth Drabinsky was an entertainment mogul in the world of theatre, whose productions including Phantom of the Opera, Showboat, Sunset Boulevard, and Kiss of the Spider Woman, garnered nineteen Tony awards for Drabinsky’s production company Livent. Prior to his foray into live theatrical production, he was an independent film producer, and later with a partner co-founded Cineplex Theatres in Canada in 1979, eventually acquiring Odeon Theatres to establish Cineplex Odeon, a venture he was forced out of in 1989 after accumulating unmanageable debt.

Born in Toronto, he obtained a law degree from the University of Toronto in 1973 and was called to the Ontario bar in 1975, working briefly as an entertainment lawyer, but his legal credentials paled in comparison to his success in show business. He became a Broadway darling, said to be responsible for 25% of North America’s live theatre revenues. Along the way he received a Queen’s Counsel designation, the prestigious Order of Canada, took Livent public, and appeared to be at the top of his game.

But things aren’t always as they seem. The reality was that Drabinsky was awash in financial problems due to excessive production costs, along with millions of dollars expended to build or renovate venues for his productions. To the surprise of many, in 1998 Livent received a $20 million dollar injection from Michael Ovitz, co-founder of Creative Artists Agency, the world’s largest talent agency and later President of Walt Disney Corporation.

With new money Drabinsky was on a roll, that is until forensic auditors hired by Michael Ovitz discovered that Drabinsky and his partner Myron Gottlieb were “cooking” the books in order to hide their massive financial losses. In this case, they created two sets of books, one that painted a rosy picture and the second that revealed the stark reality of their nearly bankrupt company.

These events saw the dismissal of Drabinsky and Gottlieb from Livent in August of 1998 and the commencement of a $225 million dollar civil lawsuit against them. But worse things were down the pike.

In 1999 authorities in New York indicted Grabinsky and Gottleib accusing them of misappropriating $4.6 million dollars from Livent. Meanwhile the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and securities regulators in the United States and Canada began investigating.

Finally, in 2002 four Livent executives, including Drabinsky and Gottlieb, were charged with fraud and accounting irregularities between 1989 and 1998. The allegations were ugly: forged financial statements, Livent purchasing large blocks of theatre tickets to falsely create an “uber-successful” production, and enticing investors to inject over $500 million dollars into the company based on fake documents.

After years of delay, said to arise from Garth Drabinsky’s lawyer, Eddie Greenspan, being fully occupied by the Lord Conrad Black fraud case in Chicago, Drabinsky finally faced justice. After a 65 day trial, Drabinsky was found guilty and sentenced to a seven-year prison term, which ultimately after appeal, was reduced to five years.

Recently steps were taken by the Canadian government to rescind his Order of Canada, and last week the Law Society of Upper Canada disbarred him, despite glowing reference letters from former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and former Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, Frank Iacobucci.

Has Garth Drabinsky taken responsibility for his crimes? Sort of, but he still says that the fraud was a result of computer software that he didn’t understand.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang