Former Edmonton Oilers owner Peter Pocklington could be sentenced to up to five years in prison on Friday for breaching the conditions of his release on a previous bankruptcy-fraud conviction.
Earlier this week, a judge in Riverside, Calif., east of Los Angeles, ruled Pocklington had breached the conditions of his probation by failing to disclose tens of thousands of dollars he received from his involvement in several gold-mining businesses.
Evidence presented at the hearing showed Pocklington failed to tell his probation officer about payments of up $15,000 a month he received for working as a “consultant” to several companies promoting gold mines in Arizona.
“Because he was found to be in violation of probation, he could be sent to prison, even though he was not sent to prison originally in this matter,” United States Department of Justice spokesman Thomas Mrozek told CBC News. “Bankruptcy fraud carries a potential prison term of five years in prison here in the United States.”
Pocklington’s lawyer, Brett Romney, did not respond to an interview request Wednesday.
In October 2010, the same U.S. District Court judge sentenced Pocklington to six months’ house arrest and two years’ probation for lying in his personal bankruptcy case. Pocklington had admitted to perjuring himself when he filed for bankruptcy in August 2008, claiming almost $19.6 million in debts with only $2,900 in assets.
Pocklington guilty of same crime
Los Angeles lawyer David Casselman said Pocklington is guilty of exactly the same crime for which he was convicted of in 2010 — lying about his assets in an attempt to evade creditors.
“This is the second violation of the same basic conditions of his probation,” said Casselman.
His law firm has acted for the Alberta government for more than five years in a civil lawsuit to collect about $13 million Pocklington owes from a 1988 government loan to his meatpacking plant.
“I am assuming, from what I have heard, that most judges don’t take one violation lightly in federal court, and two for the same thing might be grounds to slap him pretty hard.”
Casselman has closely followed these most-recent court proceedings. He said Pocklington tried to claim that, based on advice from his personal lawyer, he did not have to disclose the consulting payments because the money was paid to a company he did not own.
But that defence collapsed when the judge ordered Pocklington’s lawyer to reveal who owned the company; it was Pocklington’s wife, Eva. The lawyer is also the manager of one of the gold companies for which Pocklington was consulting.
“The court fairly easily saw through all that and indicated an intent to sentence him for false dealings,” Casselman said.
Casselman said there is evidence Pocklington has stashed money in offshore accounts and he said this latest conviction should help creditors, including Alberta taxpayers, to pursue that money.
“As we continue to prosecute the recovery efforts, this will open up avenues to seize records related to his international bank accounts,” he said. “And that is where he has hidden the money that he claims he doesn’t have. We will be pursuing those issues vigorously to try get to the bottom of that.”
Pocklington downplayed guilt
Within hours of being sentenced for bankruptcy fraud in October 2010, Pocklington issued a statement in which he downplayed his guilt. He claimed he had signed off on bankruptcy forms completed on his behalf “without fully examining them or questioning why they were incomplete.”
Pocklington said he found it “alarming” that people assumed he was guilty based solely on comments they read on online forums. He said those people who know him are aware of his history of community service.
“None of the lies or slanders I have endured will diminish that pride or what I have been able to accomplish,” he said at the time.
Casselman said the court record clearly contradicts Pocklington’s public claims of innocence.
“If you put him under oath, he has no compunction whatsoever to lie, which he has done, over and over,” he said. “That is how he got into this mess.”