Former Olympic rower Harold Backer received a 13-month jail sentence Wednesday after pleading guilty to fraud, but no answers were provided about his mysterious 18 month disappearance that sparked an international police search.
Backer, 55, wearing a grey pinstriped suit and red tie, did not say a word during his sentencing hearing, choosing to let his lawyer, Joven Narwal, speak to the court on his behalf.
Two of Backer’s children, his older brother, other relatives and a former rowing coach were in the courtroom to support him.
“Mr. Backer wishes to express his deep remorse for his conduct through me,” said Narwal. “He does not wish to address the court.”
Backer, a three-time Olympian and Princeton University graduate, had been facing two charges of fraud over $5,000 and had pleaded not guilty on both counts. He abruptly changed the plea to guilty on Wednesday in Victoria provincial court to a single charge of fraud over $5,000.
Judge Carmen Rogers also gave the former investment dealer three years of probation. The sentence included credit for one month of time served in jail.
In an agreed statement of facts, Backer promised to pay restitution of $161,900 to five people.
Before he was led away from court, Backer hugged his children and brother, who declined to answer questions outside court.
Backer disappeared on Nov. 3, 2015, when he failed to return home after telling his family he was going out for a bike ride. He surrendered to police in Victoria in April 2017 and his whereabouts while he was missing have never been explained.
His disappearance was not mentioned during the sentencing hearing, where a joint submission was presented to the court by both Backer’s lawyer and Crown counsel.
“The information that is of concern to the Crown is the period between May of 2013 and November of 2015, and that’s the period when these offences have been carried out, and that’s the period we’re concerned about with the prosecution,” Crown counsel spokesman Daniel McLaughlin said outside court.
Narwal also said his client’s disappearance was not connected to the sentencing.
“As you can assume, the answer to that question wasn’t relevant to today’s sentencing hearing and I won’t be answering that,” he said after the hearing.
Victoria police said in a statement the department was offering no comment at this time.
After his disappearance in November 2015, police in Port Angeles, Wash., said an officer who viewed video from a street security camera noted a man fitting Backer’s description was aboard a ferry from Victoria, a 90-minute trip away.
Soon after he disappeared, financial crime investigators began looking into Backer and the company My Financial Backer Corp. after his investors received letters that concerned them.
Narwal told the court his client often expressed remorse in terms of an athlete failing his team.
“He’s let down the people who cared most deeply for him,” said Narwal. “In rowing, if you don’t perform well enough, you let down the team.”
Backer never intended to defraud his investors, Narwal said.
“The investments, and let’s say the optimism related to these investments, did not bear the fruit he was hoping for. And so loses occurred.”
Backer was on the Canadian rowing team in the 1984, 1988 and 1992 Olympic Games.