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Victims unmoved by fraudster's courtroom tears

Earl Jones's tears failed to inspire pity or forgiveness in the hearts of some of his victims after the disgraced money manager pleaded guilty yesterday to two fraud charges for bilking 158 investors of about $50-million.

Frail-looking and dressed in baggy blue jeans, Mr. Jones, 67, said through his lawyer in court that he is sorry for "ruining" the lives of his victims, many of whom are older people who lost their life savings.

He broke down and sobbed during the presentation made by his lawyer, Jeffrey Boro.

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"There is true remorse on his part," Mr. Boro told Madam Justice Hélène Morin of the Court of Quebec, pointing out that Mr. Jones also co-operated with the police investigation.

Both the Crown and the defence suggested an "exemplary" prison term of 11 years when he is sentenced on Feb. 15. That would be a little less than the 13 years handed to Vincent Lacroix, a high-profile Quebec white-collar criminal found guilty last year of masterminding a $130-million fraud with 9,200 victims.

"Those could be crocodile tears," Joey Davis, whose mother lost savings of $180,000 investing with Mr. Jones, said outside the courtroom.

"I don't know if he's capable of having emotions."

Mr. Davis said the recommended sentence is close to what he was seeking. And he praised the provincial police and court system for working quickly and efficiently.

Christiane Jackson, another victim of Mr. Jones, said outside the courtroom: "I would like to see him [do]20 years in prison with no possibility of parole."

If Mr. Jones - who worked out of an office in a comfortably middle-class west island suburb of Montreal - gets the recommended 11-year sentence, he could be eligible for early release after serving about one-sixth of his term.

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Mr. Jones pleaded guilty to embezzling millions of dollars from a single "in trust" account for clients of his asset-management and estate-planning firm.

Crown prosecutor Pierre Lévesque told the court that Mr. Jones never actually invested any of his clients' money, instead providing so-called "returns" to them by taking cash from other investors in a sort of Ponzi scheme.

The scam took place over 27 years, from 1982 to 2009. Mr. Boro told the court that in the downturn of the early 1980s, Mr. Jones "ran short of money" and began to take cash from some clients to keep things afloat and was never able to replace it.

"It became at the end, as you can see, a huge crater," he said.

The $50.2-million experts say was siphoned out of the in-trust account is a conservative estimate, Mr. Lévesque told the court.

Also conservative is the estimate of $13.5-million that Mr. Jones spent on a lavish lifestyle for himself and his family, he said.

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Mr. Davis said some of the victims are contemplating seeking civil damages from the financial institutions - notably Royal Bank of Canada and Bank of Montreal - Mr. Jones did business with, on grounds they failed to spot any red flags over more than two decades.

Mr. Jones's wife Maxine, who said she had no knowledge of his financial subterfuge, has filed for divorce. Mr. Jones, who while out on parole was living in a small apartment on Montreal's South Shore, is "penniless" and living off his modest government pension, Mr. Boro said.

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About the Author
Quebec Business Correspondent

Bertrand has been covering Quebec business and finance since 2000. Before joining The Globe and Mail in 2000, he was the Toronto-based national business correspondent for Southam News. He has a B.A. from McGill University and a Bachelor of Applied Arts from Ryerson. More

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