Saskatchewan

Judge reserves decision after convicted fraudster Alena Pastuch argues for bail

Alena Pastuch has appealed her conviction and seven year prison sentence in a $5.5 million fraud case. On Thursday, she made her case as to why she should be released from prison pending an appeal hearing.

Alena Pastuch was sentenced to 7 years in prison in $5.5M fraud case

Alena Pastuch alleges a miscarriage of justice and is asking for her conviction to be overturned by Saskatchewan's highest court. (CBC)

Convicted fraudster Alena Pastuch made her case on Thursday for why she should be released from prison pending an appeal hearing.

Pastuch, 54, was sentenced to seven years in prison for defrauding investors of a combined $5.5 million. She was convicted in June after a five-month trial involving 80 witnesses. She has since filed for an appeal, calling her trial a miscarriage of justice, and has requested a new trial.

People applying for bail pending an appeal must convince the court that the appeal isn't frivolous, that there isn't a flight risk and that detention isn't necessary for public interest — both in terms of public safety and public confidence in the administration of justice. 

Crown prosecutor Dean Sinclair said he wasn't concerned about Pastuch's flight risk nor about public safety should she be released. 

That left Pastuch to prove her appeal had merit and detention wasn't necessary in terms of public confidence in the administration of justice. 

Pastuch addressed the court by phone from prison and said she's currently pursuing legal aid. She said she was alone in preparing for the hearing, save for the advice of a lawyer who visits the facility twice a month. 

She said her appeal has merit, particularly because of disability and her self-representation at trial. 

Justice Lian Schwann pointed out that many of Pastuch's concerns centred on the actions of the trial judge and Crown prosecutor. Pastuch said she "would research more to determine if they were actually all valid," when asked if those avenues would be pursued. 

Pastuch questioned why she wasn't appointed an amicus curiae — someone to help her with procedure — during the trial, as she represented herself. 

"There were times I became so disorganized in thought," Pastuch said, suggesting she was unable to properly cross-examine witnesses. "It would have been visible to anyone there." 

Some challenges stemmed from what she described as complex post-traumatic stress disorder — a disability she says the court did not take into consideration.

Pastuch has alleged that the Crown misstated evidence and that the trial judge failed to take evidence into account. She said the judge showed a "distinct bias" to the prosecution.

Schwann noted the judge produced lengthy written decisions for the conviction and sentence, but that it was difficult to assess Pastuch's claims without a transcript of the five-month trial.

Crown says appeal should be dismissed 

Sinclair said Pastuch failed to prove her appeal was not frivolous and asked for the appeal to be dismissed outright or adjourned until "evidence that supports her allegations is filed."

He said the court went to great lengths to accommodate Pastuch's needs. Sinclair said Pastuch had an opportunity to present evidence during the trial but she chose not to testify or to call any evidence to contradict the Crown's case.

Sinclair noted the criminal charges were laid in 2014 and the trial concluded mid-2019. He suggested the process was delayed several times because of Pastuch's issues with court-appointed lawyers. 

He reminded the court that the "victims had to wait years for the wheels of justice to grind slowly forward." 

Sinclair said he thought a potential appeal hearing could happen in a reasonable among of time — much less than seven years — even if Pastuch remains in prison. 

Pastuch disagreed that trial was delayed because of her actions. Furthermore, she suggested denying bail would "triple, if not quadruple" the time it would take to get the process underway due to limited access to a computer and library, as well as reported restrictions about bringing notes back to her cell. 

"It's hard for me to prove anything incarcerated." 

Schwann reserved her decision. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kendall Latimer

Journalist

Kendall Latimer (she/her) is a journalist with CBC News in Saskatchewan. You can reach her by emailing kendall.latimer@cbc.ca.

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