Claims stack up as lawyer's former clients await compensation

People who claim to have lost millions of dollars to suspended Clarence-Rockland lawyer Stephane Langlois say the system meant to compensate them doesn't work, and have launched dozens of lawsuits to recoup their money.

Dozens of claimants suing suspended Clarence-Rockland lawyer Stephane Langlois

Farmer Jocelyn Levac says he lost more than $730,000 being held in trust by Stephane Langlois while Levac's divorce was being finalized. He now works 19-hour days to hang on to his family farm. (Amanda Pfeffer/CBC)

People who claim to have lost millions of dollars to suspended Clarence-Rockland lawyer Stephane Langlois say the system meant to compensate them doesn't work, and have launched dozens of lawsuits to recoup their money.

Langlois has been the focus of investigations by Ontario Provincial Police and the Law Society of Ontario after nearly $4 million went missing in 2016 from trust accounts he managed.

In December, CBC News reported Langlois was living in the Dominican Republic. He has not been charged with any crime.

Now, more than two years after their money disappeared, his former clients and lenders are growing increasingly frustrated.

"If somebody robs a bank they go after them. And as soon as they catch that person the process is fast. Well, now we're two, three years down the road, and nothing," said Clarence-Rockland Mayor Guy Desjardins. 

"This is ridiculous."

Clarence-Rockland Mayor Guy Desjardins, who says he loaned Stephane Langlois $1 million, is among the dozens of people now suing the suspended lawyer. (Amanda Pfeffer/CBC)

​The municipality, which borders Ottawa's eastern boundary, lost more than $44,000 in a trust fund managed by Langlois.

Desjardins filed a lawsuit — one of at least 75 now making their way through the courts — to recoup nearly $1 million in personal loans he said he made to the suspended lawyer.

Compensation stalled

Desjardins is calling on Ontario's attorney general to join the probe into the Langlois case, and to look at what he calls "shortcomings" in the system when it comes to protecting clients.

Clients who feel they've been defrauded by their lawyers can apply to the Law Society of Ontario's compensation fund.

But more than two years after clients of Langlois lost their money, there have been no payouts for claims related to the case.

How can a man do what he did, and nobody stops him.- Jocelyn Levac, former client

Because the law society requires compensation applicants to exhaust all possible options first, many have spent thousands of dollars pursuing their complaints matter in civil court.

Some say they've been promised compensation cheques by April.

"These [claims] vary depending on a number of factors," the law society said in a statement to CBC.

"For example, the complexity of an investigation, the number of witnesses to be interviewed and the number of records to be reviewed."

'An awful day'

Farmer Jocelyn Levac says he lost more than $730,000 from a trust account managed by Langlois.

The money came from the sale of dairy cows and the rights to his milk quota, income held in trust while details of Levac's divorce were being negotiated.

He clearly remembers the call in the summer of 2016 from Langlois's law firm, asking him to come in right away. His money was gone.

"It was an awful day," he said. 

"It seemed like the whole world just collapsed.... I just couldn't move, I just couldn't feel my legs."  

Farmer Jocelyn Levac lost $750,000 he put into a trust account with now-suspended lawyer Stephane Langlois. He told CBC about the day he learned the money was gone. 1:04

Now Levac is working two jobs to cover his legal fees while trying to hold onto the family farm in Alfred and Plantagenet, a township next to Clarence-Rockland.

He said calls to the law society have gone unanswered.

"The system doesn't work at all," he said. 

A suspended Clarence-Rockland lawyer is facing more than 75 lawsuits, mostly from former clients hoping to get their money back after $4 million went missing from his trust accounts. 8:30

Now Levac's lawsuit is one of at least 75 winding their way through the courts.

They name Langlois, and often other lawyers at the former firm. 

One suit involves 50 former clients claiming $1.7 million in losses, money that vanished from trust funds.

Lawyer William Hunter, centre, who's representing the City of Clarence-Rockland, said the amount of money spent on legal costs by former clients of Stephane Langlois is 'horrendous.' (Amanda Pfeffer/CBC)

CBC has learned there's a separate group of claimants, including Desjardins, who say they loaned Langlois millions of dollars.

One lender, Laurent Labrie, sued for $4.6 million over more than 40 outstanding loans to Langlois. 

Documents attached to Labrie's suit claim Langlois used the homes of some of his law firm's clients as collateral.

One homeowner's affidavit said he had no idea Langlois had borrowed $225,000 against his property.

Reached by phone, the former client confirmed he managed to clear up the mess, but said it cost him $15,000 in legal fees.

'Horrendous' legal costs

Lawyer William Hunter, who's representing three plaintiffs including the City of Clarence-Rockland, said the mounting costs for the alleged victims are "horrendous." 

"That's the sad part about it. Not only have they lost the money, but they may lose the legal fees to try and get the money back," Hunter said.

Not only have they lost the money, but they may lose the legal fees to try and get the money back.- William Hunter, lawyer

At the time most of the compensation claims against Langlois were made to the law society, the maximum reimbursement was $150,000.

That has since risen to $500,000 — too late for former clients like Jocelyn Levac.

His plan to semi-retire after his divorce is now on hold.

These days, he wakes up at 4 a.m. to tend his own cattle before heading out to the farm down the road for his second job.

'I need to do it if I don't want to lose the farm,' said Jocelyn Levac of the extra hours he now must put in. (Amanda Pfeffer/CBC)

When he returns home he works until 11 p.m., only to do it all over again the next day.

He said sometimes, he falls asleep behind the wheel of his tractor.

"I need to do it if I don't want to lose the farm," Levac said.

About the Author

Amanda Pfeffer

Amanda Pfeffer has worked for the CBC across the country, including Montreal, Vancouver, Fredericton, Quebec City and Ottawa. She welcomes story ideas and tips at amanda.pfeffer@cbc.ca.