Ronald Weinberg, the co-founder of children's animation house Cinar Corp., has been sentenced to eight years and 11 months in prison for what the judge said was "a leading role" in the massive fraud that resulted in the collapse of the celebrated company and the destruction of the retirement savings of thousands of investors.
The sentence handed down Wednesday by Quebec Superior Court Justice Pierre Labrie is close to the maximum of 10 years requested by Crown prosecutor Matthew Ferguson.
Mr. Weinberg's co-defendents in the $122-million (U.S.) fraud – John Xanthoudakis of Norshield Financial Group Inc. and Lino Matteo of Mount Real Corp. – each received seven years and 11 months for their participation in the funnelling of Montreal-based Cinar's cash into offshore Bahamian accounts.
Annie Émond, Mr. Weinberg's lawyer, said her client will study the judge's written decision before deciding on the next step.
Asked if an appeal is possible, she replied: "That's always a possibility." She had asked for a five-year sentence, given Mr. Weinberg's age, the media attention, the trial's length and other factors.
In sentencing Mr. Weinberg, 65, Justice Labrie said aggravating factors outweighed mitigating elements in the case. Mr. Weinberg personally signed six wire transfers of Cinar money to funds in the Bahamas, and other transactions clearly showed that cash was transferred into private holding companies owned by Mr. Weinberg and his wife, and Cinar co-founder Micheline Charest, he said.
The fraud and other wrongdoing was conducted on a large scale and showed a high level of sophistication, the judge said, adding that greed and personal gain were involved and about 80 per cent of Cinar's liquid assets were syphoned out of the company.
"The court concludes that Mr. Weinberg played a leading role in the fraud against Cinar," Justice Labrie told a packed courtroom that included Mr. Weinberg's two sons, Eric and Alexander.
"I'm so relieved, very happy," said Janet Watson, who has been leading the fight on behalf of many investors who lost money they placed in Mount Real Corp. "It's like this huge weight has been lifted. It's incredible."
The sentencing comes weeks after Canada's longest-running criminal jury trial – about two years – wrapped up with guilty verdicts against the three men on most of the charges.
Mr. Weinberg was sentenced to between six and nine years in prison on nine charges, to be served concurrently, minus one month of time already accumulated.
A fourth defendent, former Cinar chief financial officer Hasanain Panju, pleaded guilty and received a four-year prison term in 2014 after testifying as a Crown witness in the case. He was granted full parole last year.
Allegations of misuse of Cinar funds came to light in early 2000. At the beginning of the trial in 2014, Mr. Ferguson, the prosecutor, called the misappropriation of money "a massive fraud of a successful public company from the inside out," and said Mr. Weinberg, Ms. Charest and Mr. Panju used the company like "a personal piggy bank."
Mr. Ferguson alleged that Cinar funds were transferred to Bahamas-based companies controlled by Norshield without the knowledge of Cinar's board. Mr. Xanthoudakis and Mr. Matteo were found guilty of orchestrating a strategy aimed at covering the losses with backdated transactions and other false documents.
The Sûreté du Québec provincial police conducted a decade-long investigation and issued arrest warrants for the three co-defendents in 2011.
Ms. Charest died in 2004 from complications suffered during plastic surgery. She was never charged.