The FBI had Guy Lafleur in its sights. The Montreal police wanted him. His son was in rehab and possibly headed for jail, while his wife was bedridden and silent as she sank into despair.
The Montreal Canadiens legend testified Tuesday at the long-awaited civil trial in his lawsuit against his city's police force and Quebec prosecutors where he described five months that turned his world upside-down.
The former hockey great and beloved public figure is seeking $2.16-million in damages over his high-profile 2008 arrest, brief detention and eventual acquittal on charges that he gave contradictory evidence during an assault case involving his son, Mark.
But in his testimony, Mr. Lafleur described a longer, bewildering period that started in September, 2007, when he was called to testify at a hearing to review Mark's bail. Mr. Lafleur then told the court how his son was obeying court-imposed conditions, including a curfew and staying away from alcohol and drugs.
Within weeks, prosecutors figured out Mr. Lafleur had twice delivered his son, then 22, to a hotel room for weekend trysts with his 16-year-old girlfriend when he was supposed to be at home. A second hearing, where Mr. Lafleur would be confronted with the contradiction, loomed.
A few days before the second hearing, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation came calling. The FBI was looking for a famed Boston gangster named Whitey Bulger, who was the former father-in-law of one of Mr. Lafleur's ex-teammates, Chris Nilan. Mr. Bulger had, at various times, been indicted for murder and turned FBI informant. In the 1980s, he treated the entire Montreal Canadiens roster, including Mr. Lafleur, to a meal.
By the fall of 2007, Mr. Bulger was under indictment and had been on the lam from the FBI for 12 years. Two agents confronted Mr. Lafleur at a meeting room at the Montreal police department, where they grilled him about cash and offshore accounts. He said he had neither.
"The FBI thought I might know where he was hiding. I told them I met the man once when he bought us dinner. They told me they could destroy me if I didn't co-operate," said Mr. Lafleur, who said he later wished he'd brought along a lawyer.
Four days later, on Oct. 15, 2007, Mr. Lafleur was back in front of a judge where he struggled to explain why he'd omitted the hotel visits in the earlier hearing. "To me, all that mattered was that he was obeying the time of his curfew and not using," Mr. Lafleur said Tuesday.
On Jan. 30, 2008, Montreal police called to inform Mr. Lafleur that a warrant was out for his arrest and he would be charged with giving contradictory evidence. Sergeant-Detective Françoise Fortin threatened to send a squad car to pick him up if he didn't turn himself in right away. Immediately, friends from around the world started calling as word leaked out.
"It was humiliating. I was treated like a criminal. I was pretty much guilty before any trial," Mr. Lafleur said.
Mr. Lafleur was convicted, but the verdict was thrown out by the Quebec Court of Appeal in 2010. A three-judge panel found no evidence existed to convict Mr. Lafleur, fuelling the lawsuit he'd already launched. He claims his arrest was "capricious, unreasonable and unjustified." He says his life and earning power were on hold for three years.
Mark Lafleur pleaded guilty in 2009 to charges of uttering death threats, assault and forcible confinement involving an underage girl. He was given a 15-month conditional sentence. His mother and Guy Lafleur's wife, Lise, spent six months in bed with depression, Mr. Lafleur said.
The period was also unusual for the veteran officer trying to put away Mr. Lafleur. Sgt.-Det. Fortin testified Crown prosecutor Lise Archambault informed the officer charges would be laid against Mr. Lafleur for giving misleading evidence before a moment's investigation had been done. The police officer testified she put together the conflicting transcripts from the hearings and delivered the charge.
The senior police investigator said it was the only time she was told in advance by a prosecutor that charges would be laid, and that she should gather the evidence to back it up. "It's normally the other way around," Sgt.-Det. Fortin said.
Mr. Lafleur's lawyer challenged the officer on whether she'd explored Mr. Lafleur's confusion on his son's bail conditions, given all the stress the retired hockey legend was under. Sgt.-Det. Fortin testified "the information wasn't useful or necessary."