Wednesday, March 25, 2009


Theatre impresario Garth Drabinsky and his partner, Myron Gottlieb, were both found guilty this morning of two counts of fraud and one of forgery for activities which occurred during their ownership of Livent Inc.

According to prosecutors, Drabinsky and Gottlieb had used the theatrical production entity to bilk half a Billion dollars from investors, hiding their illegal actions through a complex series of accounting irregularities. Sentencing will take place next month which could see the men receive ten years or more in prison on each charge.


Although this whole sad saga has taken almost a decade to wend its way through the notoriously lax on white collar crime Canadian courts, it’s far from over.

There are still charges pending from the Ontario Securities and Exchange Commission as well as fraud and conspiracy charges in New York. And then there are all the civil suits, investors big and small (“Angels” as they’re known in stage parlance) who believed the Livent financial reports and gave Garth and Myron money to mount more shows.

At a time when public anger at corporate criminals like Bernie Madoff and others who’ve cratered our economy and evaporated the life savings and financial futures of thousands is at an all time high, you’d think the Main Stream Media would be quick to cheer one of these predators finally being put out of business.

But not in Canada.

This morning’s Toronto Star posted a video by its theatre critic Richard Ouzounian asking us not to be so consumed by what verdict Garth was going to ‘get’ but to think about all the wonderful things he ‘gave us’. I was stunned when I saw it. Even more stunned that it’s still up there hours after the verdict.

Ouzounian has always been very upfront in disclosing that he used to work for Garth and Livent during some of the company’s headier days. But in this case he’s wearing blinkers that would give any wild-eyed filly tunnel vision.

In case the link above disappears, in his video Ouzounian asks us to remember that “Garth gave us excitement. He gave us professionalism.  He gave us show business.”

Dude – he also gave a lot of people the shaft!

He caused them to lose their homes (as happened to personal friends of mine). He cost them the enjoyment of the fruits of their labors in their retirement years and he made the almost impossible job of convincing people to invest in Canadian theatre, film and television even harder than it already was.

Garth Drabinsky was an exciting, professional, show business -- crook!

Who cares if he wore better suits than John Gotti, threw better parties than Al Capone or had more starlets on his arm than ‘Legs’ Diamond. He was the same kind of criminal.

But like Canadian white collar criminals who have gone before and only been brought to justice heretofore by American courts (Alan Eagleson, Bernie Ebbers, Conrad Black) these people get a pass because they’ve been accepted in polite society. You need look no further than the shared board members, investment bankers and political connections of all these guys to see the protective web that operates for them here. A web few of our so-called journalists seem willing to pull apart.

Ouzounian goes on -- “We were action central. I miss that period, y’know. I miss all the excitement. I miss the fun. I miss the glamor.”

I’m sure Richard would have enjoyed the Roaring 20’s in Chicago too or New York in the 90’s. Back then, he could have written about what a swell guy Ole Scarface was setting up those soup kitchens for the bums down in The Loop. He could have gotten all dewy eyed at the fireworks the Dapper Don was shooting off the roof of the Bergin Hunt and Fish Club to celebrate Columbus Day, while New York cops were scraping Paul Castellano off the sidewalk in front of Sparks Steakhouse or fishing some other rival mobster’s corpse out of the East River.

A criminal is a criminal is a criminal, Mr. Ouzounian.

A lot of people could have been putting on great shows in Toronto if they’d been willing to commit fraud or steal. I’m sure they could have created stars and attracted busloads of tourists too. Somehow that pesky “Honesty” thing just got in the way.

Mr. Drabinsky and his white collar is no different from the thugs popping caps in kids in Malvern or selling eight balls at Jane & Finch. That’s “Action Central” in Toronto these days. Exciting and glamorous for the gangsters. Not so much fun for their victims or the impoverished community they leave behind.

I’m certain Mr. Ouzounian wouldn’t want to perk up our economy by busing in audiences from Cleveland to see that. But when the victims aren’t visible and the parties are stylish, I guess it’s okay.

I’ve met a lot of theatrical ‘Angels’ during countless backers auditions, workshops and open readings where folks with a love of theatre and some extra cash have been asked to drop by, in the hope they’ll want to bankroll a production. They come from all walks of life but they have one thing in common, a gentleness and gentility, a refinement that comes from spending time in the shadow of the footlights.

They know they’re investing in one of the riskiest enterprises there is and yet they do it gladly. They’re happy to simply share in the excitement of opening night, to get to rub shoulders with ‘stars’ or show good reviews to friends over coffee while pointing out the intellectual failings of the critics who wrote bad ones.

Most of these people don’t make a lot of money from their theatrical flights of fancy. And when they do, they often put it right back into another production. Because they love the theatre and art and culture and understand how important they are to making the world a better place.

These are the kind of people that Garth Drabinsky and Myron Gottlieb mugged so Richard Ouzounian could uncork another magnum of champagne.

At today’s reading of the verdict, Judge Mary Lou Benotto described the two men on trial before her as follows, “They were deceitful, they perpetrated a falsehood and reasonable people would consider them dishonest.”

Now that Richard Ouzounian knows that the money he was paid during his time at Livent was stolen, I wonder if he’s going to give it back.

I wonder if he’s going to use his position at the Star to try and repair the damage done to Toronto’s theatre community so people don’t think we’re all as dishonest or calculating as his former employers.

I wonder if he’s going to cease being an apologist for criminals.

Given the way the Toronto Star manages what it feeds the public these days, I won’t hold my breath until any of those things happens.

Y’see, there’s another story the Toronto Star hasn’t told you – mostly, I assume, because they’re a part of it.

Over the last weeks, all of Canada’s mainstream media outlets have declaimed on the perilous state of Canadian broadcasting. “The business model is broken.”  “The Ad markets have dried up.” “They’re bleeding money.” etc. etc.

But a journalist who’s actually a journalist named Kelly Toughill has turned up evidence that CTVglobemedia, while laying off hundreds and lobbying the CRTC for breaks on their requirements of license and “carriage fees” , actually had an operating profit for 2008 of $214 Million or 9.7%. You can read her report here, which also includes the source of those numbers – figures buried in the financial reports of the parent company of the Toronto Star.

It looks like some things are beginning to get through that protective web. Maybe today’s verdict is a sign that life here might start favoring the honest among us for a change.


Further proof of how the Canadian system works courtesy of the New York Times --

“A spokesman for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation said that the conviction would not change its plans to air a second season of “Triple Sensation,” a reality series in which Mr. Drabinsky and four other panelists look for young stars who can sing, act and dance.”

Maybe some of the 800 people the CBC laid off today or those lobbying the government to find more money for the Corp should start asking some hard questions about why honest, hard-working people are on the street while money is still available to pay a convicted criminal.


DMc said...

Good stuff.

But it's the same thing over and over again. I heard that a third guy who was just as responsible as Garth and Gots got scot free because his case was dismissed for taking too long.

Scot free.

And remember, too, that it took Russ Conaway, an American reporter (later ably assisted here by Bruce Dowbiggin, who was on the case too) to take down Alan Eagelson. Nobody here would touch it. And when he went down, yup, there were all those defenders lining up.

I read somewhere I believe that Canada has the lowest rate of prosecution of white collar criminals in the G20.

Nice legacy.

Put that in your RRSP and smoke it.

deborah Nathan said...

Historically, Canada is number one for producing con men.