Garth Drabinsky granted day parole

Disgraced theatre impresario Garth Drabinsky has been granted day parole and is permitted to serve the remainder of his fraud sentence at a halfway house in Toronto, the Parole Board of Canada ruled Wednesday.
Livent co-founder Garth Drabinsky, seen in 2009, has been granted day parole and will be released to a Toronto halfway house to serve the remainder of his fraud sentence. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

Disgraced theatre impresario Garth Drabinsky has been granted day parole and is permitted to serve the remainder of his fraud sentence at a halfway house in Toronto, the Parole Board of Canada ruled Wednesday.

In coming to its decision, the two-member panel determined that the 62-year-old former entertainment mogul would not pose an "undue risk" to public safety, but denied Drabinsky's application for full release, calling it "premature."

The ex-CEO of the now-defunct Livent Inc. — the company behind such hits as Phantom of the Opera — testified at the hearing for nearly three hours via video link from the Beaver Creek Institution in Gravenhurst, Ont.

He could be seen crying and hugging his wife, and two children, who were at the prison to support him.

"Thank you from the bottom of my heart," said Drabinsky, his voice overcome with emotion.

In 2009, Drabinsky and his longtime friend and business partner Myron Gottlieb were both convicted of two counts of fraud each for a book-cooking scheme that ultimately resulted in the demise of Livent.

The court ruled that the partners orchestrated a scheme involving the falsification of Livent's financial statements to lower its expenses and make the company look like it was meeting high earnings projections.

At the hearing, in his first public statements since Livent's collapse 14 years ago, Drabinsky repeatedly denied that he intentionally committed fraud or that it occurred out of greed.

However, he admitted that the employees had been pressured by him to maximize profits at the company, and ultimately, it was his "gross negligence" that makes it his responsibility as the head of Livent.

"I drove people tremendously hard in the company," he said. "I drove them to succeed through my flawed ambition and creative hunger, which was not grounded in greed. I pushed the envelope too far."

He said he did not know that what was being done by the company's accountants "crossed into criminality."

Drabinsky said he had suspected that there were inaccuracies in the company's financial statements but due to his lack of accounting practices, he "walked away from the details."

"I should never have been CEO of the company," he said. "That was a mistake."

The bankruptcy of the publicly-traded company ultimately cost investors an estimated $500 million.

Last September, after losing a joint appeal of their convictions, Drabinsky was sentenced to five years in prison and Gottlieb to four years.

He told the panel Wednesday that the first month of his sentence, which was served at the maximum-security Millhaven penitentiary in Kingston, Ont., was "devastating" to him and his family.

"It affected me beyond description," said Drabinsky. "Every time the lead door slammed shut and reverberated I was overwhelmed."

Drabinsky, who considers Oscar-nominated actor Christopher Plummer and Canadian ballerina Karen Kain his close friends, said he soon found himself "face-to-face with a different world of individual."

He sobbed when he told the board that he was contacted last August by the Governor-General's office about stripping him of his Order of Canada, which was rewarded in 1995 for his contribution to the arts.

"I've always given everything I had to this country," said Drabinsky, noting that he had often resisted temptation to move the company to the U.S.   

The panel imposed several conditions on his six-month-long release to the halfway house, including barring him from owning or operating any business, becoming self-employed and managing financials at any company or organization.

Drabinsky must also submit financial and banking statements to a parole officer at least once a month, and not associate with any convicted criminals, including Gottlieb.

Once granted parole, the man who used to rub shoulders with Hollywood elite said he wants to keep a "low profile" and continue producing movies and stage productions.

He was also in talks of doing consultant work, and lecturing at a business school and an arts school.

"Forget about building any empires anymore," said Drabinsky.

"I already did that."

Gottlieb was released to a halfway house last July.   

Drabinsky will be moved to the halfway house sometime after Nov. 11.