Disgraced lawyer sent to prison

The Hamilton lawyer who helped win a $20-million lawsuit for the residents of Caledonia was sentenced Monday to penitentiary time after he was convicted of skimming $1.7 million of the funds.John Findlay pleaded guilty to fraud and breach of trust by taking the money that was held in trust for the people of Caledonia who suffered from an occupation of the town in 2006. He was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison.“This is a good man who’s fallen from grace,” Findlay’s lawyer, Geoffrey Read, said on Tuesday.“The public can look at this and see there was an accounting and justice was done. But I hope they also look at what kind of a fellow this was.”Reid said his client had a long history of good behaviour and had reported himself to the law society and co-operated with the police.“It’s a shame, but he’s done everything a fellow could do.”The law firm Findlay McCarthy LLP was paid $3.3 million for its role in shepherding the Caledonia class-action suit through the courts.In an agreed statement of facts, the court was told Findlay moved another $1.7 million from the trust account to bank accounts of Trefoil Marine, a U.S. company that Findlay was operating.He was arrested in September last year and, in April, the Law Society of Ontario revoked his licence, ordering him to pay costs of $51,500 plus the missing $1.75 million.At that point Findlay wrote to the society and said he had made “substantial progress” in his efforts to make restitution but as of his arrest, he had only repaid $50,000.The suit, which involved hundreds of Caledonia businesses and residents, was designed to compensate those who had property damage or business losses during the occupation.Along with the $3.3 million paid to the lawyers, about $14.5 million went to members of the lawsuit. Findlay was to keep a reserve of about $2 million.Such a white-collar crime might not have even resulted in jail time a decade ago but Canadian sentences are increasing and the judge agreed such a breach of trust by a lawyer merited a penitentiary sentence.Assistant Crown attorney Fraser McCracken asked Justice Tory Colvin to consider a three-year sentence while Read suggested a 15- to 18-month jail sentence was more appropriate, noting the increase in sentences for major frauds occurred just after Findlay illegally began transferring the money.While the judge also ordered that Findlay repay the $1.7 million, Colvin acknowledged that a disgraced lawyer will have little opportunity to do that once out of prison.The judge declined to make a penalty condition of further prison time if Findlay doesn’t pay up.The law society becomes involved in such cases and has replaced the missing funds so it will be to that entity Findlay owes the money.“He wants to make good on that,” said Read.“Justice has been done according to the law and hopefully he can return to being a good citizen when he’s released.”SGamble@postmedia.com@EXPSGamble read more