Garth Drabinsky / Getty
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Garth Drabinsky former theatre producer, and co-founder of Livent, the publicly listed theatre production company responsible for such international mega hits as Phantom of the Opera and Kiss of the Spiderwoman, has just been awarded full parole by the Parole Board of Canada.
This is the second time he has made his case for full parole. At an earlier hearing, on December 2nd 2013, the Parole Board had mixed feelings about his release amongst its members, and therefore postponed a final decision. Jewish Business News reported on that hearing.
Finally, yesterday a special two-member panel of the Parole Board met to hear arguments again as to why he should be granted full probation.
After a prolonged grilling of Drabinsky they finally consented, “We are satisfied your risk is manageable to move into the next step of your release from day parole to full parole, ” said Parole Board member Linda Lennon.
The former CEO of Livent had been convicted of fraud in 2009 for serially misstating its publicly disclosed financial statements, and sentenced to five years in prison. He began serving his sentence in September, 2011, after losing all avenues for appeal of the decision. Drabinsky’s partner Myron Gottleib had also been convicted of the same offenses, served time in prison as well and has already been granted full parole.
In February 2013 Garth Drabinsky, who is 64, was released from jail on day parole and he has been living something of a double life at a halfway house in Toronto, still unable to stay overnight with his family, except on special weekend passes.
Normally when a convicted prisoner attends a Parole Board hearing, he/she has to accept responsibility for his/her actions, and demonstrate remorse. Garth Drabinsky almost did just exactly that telling the hearing, as he had in December that he accepts responsibility for wrongdoing at Livent as CEO of the company, and said he feels deep remorse for victims of his crime, including former employees and investors.
“I am profoundly sorry for their sake that any of these offences occurred, ” he said. “I should have protected all of them much more.”
He added he will be “haunted” for the rest of his life by the harm caused by his actions.
However, even this still falls just short of admitting fraudulent intent, and he even repeated earlier statements he has made saying he did not know accounting staff were committing fraud at the company, and repeating everything would have been different if any employee had ever come to him to reveal fraud was occurring.
Instead, he said he recognized he had pushed his people over the line, by the pure force of his personality, and by insisting that the company be profitable no matter what, creating a culture where his people were then ineluctably pressured into fraud.
Drabinsky also said he realizes he would have been better off not to have become CEO of Livent, and should have instead been just the creative director who produced the plays.
“My sins of commission were out of this fear of failure, driving the culture of the company unrealistically too hard in terms of the concept of maximizing income, ” he said.
Well if not quite a perfect form of recantation yet, for the Parole Board this time it was good enough. One might add that the ritual demand for acceptance of responsibility, typically made by Parole Boards everywhere, is of course appropriate for those who really are guilty, but can be very problematic indeed, philosophically, for those who continue to assert their innocence and claim actual wrongful conviction.
If such views are sincere it is patently absurd to deny them parole, other things being equal, and if they have been otherwise model prisoners, simply for asserting their true beliefs and continuing to state their innocence. After all there have been plenty of wrongful convictions overturned only many years later.
It is not always a matter just of denial; in the Drabinsky case there seemed little room for doubt of his guilt, however, so in the end this issue remains moot.
A key area of interest, for the Parole Board members, as it was at last month’s hearing as well, is his current work as a consultant in the entertainment industry, which he began while in prison and has continued since release on parole.
Under his parole conditions he is not allowed to own or operate a business and is prohibited from being in a position of responsibility for managing money. However he is not disallowed from making a living and, since he understands the live entertainment industry better than just about anybody on the North American continent, it is not surprising that potential clients have wished to use his consulting services.
The American Dream
One of these is rumoured to be the Triple5 Company of Edmonton, Alberta, whose owners, the Ghermazian brothers, own the West Edmonton Mall and the Mall of America in Minneapolis, both giant mega – malls each attracting 70 million visitors a year
In 2013, the Ghermazians acquired the empty shell of an unfinished giant mall in northern New Jersey, close to Manhattan, which they are going now to turn into their third mega-mall, and the largest mall in the United States, called American Dream Meadowlands Mall. Jewish Business News has outlined the progress of their plans.
Part of the Ghermazians’ plan for the Meadowlands Mall is to build a large performing arts center, and attract thousands of visitors from the island of Manhattan to top quality Broadway style shows there. Clearly somebody like Garth Drabinsky could help them a great deal to make it all work, acting purely as a consultant of course.
If these rumours are true therefore, Drabinsky will have to do all the work remotely from home in Toronto, as he would still face arrest in the US on the same charges as put him in jail in Canada if he should turn up there. However he remains in safety in Canada, as under double jeopardy legal rules he cannot be extradited having already served his time.
After his release from jail, Mr. Drabinsky did form a new company called Ambassador Entertainment Inc., which is owned in trust in the names of his wife and a nominee. He is paid a salary by the company as an employee, but is not the CEO and does not touch the money flows.
At Monday’s hearing, Mr. Drabinsky said he no longer wants to be in charge of a company.
“I no longer need to build empires. I no longer need to build public companies. I no longer need public acclaim of my accomplishments. I’ve sought a much more quiet life. ”
One of the Parole Board’s concerns has been the eventual US$7 million dollar personal debt he built up over a number of years, which is still technically outstanding, borrowing heavily from family and friends to defend the lawsuits against him.
This was a clear concern to the Parole Board last time it met in December, who worried he might feel pushed over the edge and back into crime again simply to pay them all back. However it seems the people who lent him the money wrote letters to the Parole Board later in December, all explaining they are not pressuring him for repayment and they understand they indeed may never be repaid.
“I didn’t want to suggest there is a gun to my head to suggest I’d do anything untoward, ” Drabinsky explained to the Board.
Well he has won his argument this time, and Garth Drabinsky is now a completely free man, though still technically on probation until September 2015. Let’s wait and see what his undoubted creative genius can bring to us again, whether at the American Dream Meadowlands Mall or anywhere else.