Defence calls key crown witnesses slippery, shady and narcissistic

On day 40 of the $24 million Atlas Copco fraud trial and day two of closing arguments, the jury got a recap of the last two months from defence lawyer Ralph Steinberg.

Former Sudbury manager Dirk Plate and Montreal insurance broker Paul Caron on trial

The lawyers for Steve Wright are arguing that 20 years of news coverage of the Renee Sweeney make it impossible for him to have a fair trial in Sudbury. (Erik White/CBC)

On day 40 of the $24 million Atlas Copco fraud trial and day two of closing arguments, the jury got a recap of the last two months from defence lawyer Ralph Steinberg.

He is representing the former manager of the company's Sudbury office Dirk Plate, who, along with Montreal insurance broker Paul Caron, is facing fraud charges.

They are alleged to have been part of a scheme to over-bill Atlas Copco for employee benefits, a scheme that former Atlas Copco employees Leo Caron and David Hillier have already confessed to being part of.

In court Tuesday, Steinberg called former Sudbury office financial manager Hillier the "slipperiest witness imaginable," who wouldn't give a straight answer. Steinberg alleges Hillier made up a story that included Paul Caron and Plate in the fraud scheme to escape the civil lawsuit brought by his former employer.

"He was looking for a way out of that $20 million lawsuit and I would suggest he got it," Steinberg told the jury,

"He made up a story ... and when it's closely examined, it just doesn't make sense."

Steinberg called the story spun by Hillier — who returned the $400,000 he says he stole to avoid charges — "preposterous," and accused him of trying to confuse the jury and investigators with "accounting bafflegab."

It's alleged the $24 million fraud scheme was run by employees at Atlas Copco's Sudbury office in the Walden Industrial Park. (Erik White/CBC)

Steinberg also attacked the former human resources manager Leo Caron, who was sentenced to five years in prison for the fraud and testified for the Crown.

He says Leo Caron claimed to be a "walking zombie" due to mental illness during the early 2000s, when the fraud was at full steam, but says he seemed skilled at hiding his illegal activities.

The court has heard that Leo Caron funneled some of the money to 68 other Atlas Copco employees in the form of cash advances or expanded benefits. 

"He really did act like Santa Claus. But he was generous with the company's money," Steinberg said of Leo Caron, adding that he "deserves an award for narcissism."

As for his client, Steinberg says the 72-year-old Plate has been nothing but "open and transparent" with authorities and "done everything he can to deny" he was involved in this crime.

The jury is expected to hear from the Crown this afternoon, after which it will go into sequester to begin discussing a verdict.


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