A Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador judge has thrown out fraud charges against a real estate developer and an accountant, saying lengthy delays in bringing the case to trial have breached their charter rights.
William Clarke and Terrence Reardon were each charged with conspiracy to commit fraud, involving incidents alleged to have happened between September 2000 and May 2004.
However, Justice Jane Fitzpatrick ruled Monday that the charges should be stayed because too much time had elapsed.
The charges arose out of Clarke and Reardon's involvement in a real estate development company, Myles-Leger Limited.
Clarke was one of the owners. Reardon was employed as accountant and controller.
The company was supposed to hold deposits on condominiums in trust but many of the mortgages were never paid out, and the developers were alleged to have used the money for other purposes.
In a statement Monday afternoon, the Director of Public Prosecutions said no decision has been made on whether to appeal the stay of proceedings.
The defendants argued during a hearing in December that their charter rights were breached because it took police more than eight years to lay charges.
Judge Fitzpatrick agreed, ruling that "their work lives, health, financial well-being and overall social and family lives have been gravely impacted by the extended delay in this case."
Terrence Reardon described his world as "going up in smoke" because of the publicity surrounding Myles-Leger, and said his health has suffered.
He told the court that he got another job that paid him far less and was laid off in 2014, leaving his family without medical or dental benefits, and said he has "maxed out" his credit and borrowed against his home.
Clarke testified that he suffers from ulcerative colitis, anxiety and migraines. He described himself as "shunned" by his business partners, and said his family income has dropped to $115,000 a year — not enough to pay university costs for his children.
'Staggeringly long' period of time
The judge said "eight and one half years is not just a lengthy period of time, it is a staggeringly long period of time," and agreed the appropriate remedy is a stay of proceedings.
She said police knew the magnitude of the case in 2004, because of a Law Society investigation into the lawyer for Myles-Leger, Bill Parsons.
Yet they did not get a search warrant until 2007, did not get transcripts from the Law Society or begin interviews with Myles-Leger employees until 2009.
Charges were laid in December 2012, a delay of 102 months, according to the judge.
"It seems clear that staffing issues and a lack of resources, as well as other investigative priorities for the RCMP, had a tremendous impact on the pace of this investigation," wrote Fitzpatrick.
"Concerns with how to appropriately handle an investigation involving solicitor-client privilege issues was also a factor."
Officers testified that another fraud chase, involving Hickman Equipment, was being investigated at the same time and was given priority by the commercial crime section.
"The Charter must provide protection to a citizen who faces criminal charges," wrote Fitzpatrick in her decision.
"It seems to me this file was not handled in the normal course of efficiency one would expect for a matter as serious as the one before the court."
Parsons was sentenced to three years in prison for his role in how money was handled at the company, which went bankrupt in 2004.
William Clarke's brother, Randell, was also charged with fraud but the charge against him was dropped in 2014.