A free-spending Saskatchewan accountant who a judge said committed "an egregious breach of trust" for a massive payroll fraud has been sentenced to three years and must pay back $1.4 million.

James Besler, 57, formerly a partner in an Esterhazy accounting firm, is off to prison after being sentenced in provincial court last week on one count of fraud and three of tax evasion.

'It is hard to imagine a more egregious breach of trust than the one committed by the accused in this case.' —Judge Brent Klause

He was ordered to pay $633,428 in fines and federal taxes owed, the Canada Revenue Agency said in a news release.

He was also ordered to make restitution totalling $816,632 to five of his former accounting partners — the victims of the fraud. 

Court heard that the firm prepared payroll returns for the Mosaic company, which owns and operates a large potash mine near Esterhazy. 

Besler, who was in charge of the Mosaic account, was supposed to deduct income tax from the paycheques of company executives and then send the money in to the revenue agency.

And he did send money in — just not nearly enough, court heard.

"Besler kept large amounts of these funds for himself by under-reporting the employees' income and falsifying the accounting firm's financial statements," the revenue agency said.

In a written decision, Judge Brent Klause said Besler concealed his actions "by utilizing his skills as a chartered accountant" and relying on the trust people had in him.

Over a long period — 1994 to 2002 — Besler issued cheques to himself totalling $1,035,000.  All of the money he stole was spent, court heard.

Once Besler gets out of prison, he'll have to start paying back $1,000 a month.

However, it's extremely unlikely Besler's victims will ever get much of their money back, Klause said in his harshly worded, seven-page decision. 

"It is hard to imagine a more egregious breach of trust than the one committed by the accused in this case," Klause said.

"The theft has had a profound, and long term effect on the remaining partners and is likely one from which they will never completely recover, either emotionally or financially."

Another aggravating factor is that the money was used not to pay for a sick child or to pay for a gambling addiction, but to furnish a lavish lifestyle, the judge said.

"He stole money to support a lifestyle, that as his counsel advised the court, that he could not afford and so that he could essentially keep up with others who had the advantage of unlimited funds of their own."

When his scheme started to unravel, Besler fled the country. He told his wife in a letter that they were in financial difficulty and he was going to Costa Rica to try to "win some money."

Besler eventually returned to Canada and turned himself in to the police.