MONTREAL –Just hours after being handed a four-year prison term Wednesday for fraud-related crimes in connection with the federal sponsorship scandal, ex-Liberal organizer Jacques Corriveau was freed pending an appeal of the guilty verdict.
In the morning, a Quebec Superior Court justice said Corriveau, 83, used his influence to enrich himself and deserved an exemplary sentence.
His incarceration was fleeting, however, after the province’s top court freed him in the afternoon with various conditions, including keeping the peace, staying in Canada and handing over his passport by 2 p.m. Thursday.
Corriveau, previously described as the “central figure” in the scandal, was also fined $1.4 million, with 10 years to pay it off once his sentence is completed.
A jury found Corriveau guilty of three charges in November: fraud against the government, forgery and laundering proceeds of crime.
“The length, the nature (of the crimes), the amounts and the sophistication of the scheme and the important efforts to ensure its clandestine nature merit an exemplary sentence,” Superior Court Justice Jean-Francois Buffoni said.
The crimes occurred between 1997 and 2003.
In addition to the fine, lawyers previously agreed that some proceeds from the eventual sale of Corriveau’s Montreal-area home, valued at $950,000, and an investment account with more than $850,000 would be seized by the government.
The Crown alleged Corriveau set up a kickback scheme on contracts awarded during the sponsorship program and used his Pluri Design Canada Inc. firm to defraud the federal government.
Corriveau, who worked on ex-prime minister Jean Chretien’s Liberal leadership campaigns and was close to him, was accused of pocketing roughly $7 million in kickbacks.
The judge who headed the commission into the sponsorship scandal described Corriveau in his report about 10 years ago as the “central figure” in the scheme.
The sponsorship program was created after the 1995 sovereignty referendum to boost the federal government’s presence in Quebec.
Ottawa’s inquiry found that firms were winning contracts based on donations to the federal Liberals, with little work being done.
Crown prosecutor Jacques Dagenais said Corriveau’s involvement began at the very beginning of the program.
“He acted a bit as a sparkplug because he had the influence, he was among the first to be aware of the program, to be aware that there was a huge lot of money that wasn’t really managed in the standard way by the government,” Dagenais said.
“It was rather loosely managed by a small group of civil servants and he took advantage of that.”
Corriveau was only charged in December 2013 following an 11-year investigation.
He chose not to address the court when asked by Buffoni on Wednesday if he wanted to do so.
Corriveau was handcuffed and placed in the prisoner’s box after the sentence was read out.
The Crown did not object to the release and suggested an appeal might take two years to be heard.
Defence lawyer Gerald Souliere said he’s also ready to appeal the sentence.
“Mr. Corriveau never thought he would end his days in prison, that he would go to prison,” Souliere told reporters. “So, other than to say he’s stunned, there’s nothing else I can say.”
Prosecutors had suggested Corriveau serve between three and five years behind bars, while the defence was seeking a sentence in the community, citing his age and the lengthy delay in his case getting to trial.
Buffoni concluded that Corriveau’s age and poor health shouldn’t have an impact on the sentence, noting he was 63 when the crimes began and that his health was poor back then.
Both Crown and defence lawyers agreed the sentence was severe.
“I would say it’s a very severe sentence, taking into account the maximum for influence trafficking is five years,” Dagenais said. “So we’re quite close (to the maximum) for a man who has otherwise had an impeccable life.”
In a motion filed in the Quebec Court of Appeal in December, Corriveau’s lawyers argued the trial judge erred by not invoking the lengthy delays to grant a stay of proceedings before the trial began this past fall.