A 68-year-old former Atlas Copco executive will serve a five-year prison sentence and has been ordered to pay back nearly $24 million for his role in defrauding the mining supply giant's Sudbury office.

Leo Caron pleaded guilty to the charges of fraud and theft over $5,000.

Justice John Keast called the "magnitude of greed astounding" when sentencing Caron to five years in prison, minus a credit for six months he has already served.

Justice Keast also ordered Caron to pay back the nearly $24 million, but the crown acknowledged it is unlikely he will ever be able to pay.

The court heard Caron is in the process of declaring bankruptcy. All his assets, including two homes, have been seized.

Any money Atlas Copco recovers from others alleged to be involved — through criminal or civil proceedings — will go toward that restitution order.

Position of trust

Caron started his career with Atlas Copco in Montreal, but he moved to Sudbury in 2002 when the mining service and supply giant moved its Canadian head office to the city.

By 2004, the court heard he was participating in a scheme to over bill the company's employee benefits plan.

The crown alleges the scheme also involved Hudson, Que., insurance broker Paul Caron — a long-time friend who is of no relation to Leo Caron — and another Atlas Copco employee, Dirk Plate.

Paul Caron and Plate have been charged in connection with the case, but the allegations against them have not yet been proven in court.

When Leo Caron pleaded guilty to theft and fraud charges on Friday, the court heard his role as human resources director was to approve inflated invoices for health benefits.

Over a period of three-and-a-half years, the crown said this over-billing added up to about $22 million.

Caron also admitted to approving about $1.5 million in advances for himself that he never intended to pay back.

Justice Keast said Caron traded on his currency as a trustworthy individual to steal the money.

Tracing the money

It's not entirely clear exactly how much of the stolen money went to Leo Caron, said crown attorney Philip Zylberberg.

"We have been able to trace about $4 million that went to him, or through him, or to his ex-wife, or to a company that he incorporated for that purpose," he said.

'The money is big. The ability to get away with it is high.' —Crown attorney Philip Zylberberg

"We don't know whether that's all, or whether more made its way to him."

Eventually others at Atlas Copco raised concerns about how much the employee benefit program was costing in Sudbury, the court heard. Although Caron assured them everything was fine, the company fired him in 2007.

'Difficult to ferret out'

Prison sentences for fraud cases of this magnitude typically range from four to 10 years, Zylberberg said.

"These are difficult schemes to investigate, difficult to ferret out," he said. "The money is big. The ability to get away with it is high. There are people, no doubt, who will be tempted."

"The only way that offences could possibly be deterred is by significant jail terms for those who get caught, so that people know the risks they are taking."

The fact that Caron pleaded guilty at one of the first available opportunities was a mitigating factor in the sentencing, Justice Keast noted.

The court heard Caron's health is deteriorating and is suffers from an array of mental health problems.

He will serve his prison sentence in Quebec to be closer to his family. The court heard he is divorced with an adult daughter.