Singleton deserves jail for ‘despicable’ act, Crown says
Marvin Singleton’s “despicable crime" and “profound breach of trust" in stealing from an estate for which he was executor should result in a three-to-six year jail term, a special prosecutor told a Nelson courtroom Monday.
The former city lawyer and Notre Dame University professor appeared for the first two days of his sentencing hearing after being convicted in December of one count each of fraud and theft over $1,000.
The theft count has been stayed, based on the principle that where two crimes are linked or overlap, the accused may be sentenced only on the more appropriate one.
Special prosecutor Trevor Shaw said the case is best characterized as a fraud, and dropping the theft charge does not change the sentence the Crown is seeking.
In the context of commercial crime and lawyer fraud, Shaw said Singleton is still guilty of a “despicable crime ... deserving of serious punishment."
In the late 1980s, Singleton handled the estate of John Alexander George, worth just over $1 million, and stole nearly half for his own pet projects, including a wild rice plantation and equipment for horse logging.
Much of the money was earmarked for various charities, including the Kootenay Lake Hospital Foundation. It was subsequently repaid through the Law Society of B.C.’s special compensation fund, but not until five years after it went missing, by which time Singleton had moved to the U.S.
Singleton was charged in 1997, but wasn’t arrested until 2004, while teaching at a community college in Wichita. He then spent two years in prison fighting extradition.
The prosecutor told Madam Justice Elizabeth Arnold-Bailey she should not give Singleton credit for time served in the U.S., and even if she does, it would not alter the sentence range the Crown is proposing — only place it at the lower end.
"If you actually look at the laws and apply the principles, you get a sentence of between three and six years," Shaw said.
He added there are “competing factors," including Singleton’s age and the seriousness of the offence, but the guiding principle should be deterrence.
Particularly significant, he said, was that George lived modestly but accumulated a fair amount of wealth and intended it for charity. Singleton committed a “profound breach of trust" to his client and the estate to which he owed a fiduciary duty, and in response to inquiries, provided “dishonest answers and stonewalling."
The fraud was “sophisticated and persistent" and “very elaborate," Shaw said, involving trust accounts and a private company.
In a “geographical irony," Shaw said while Singleton was on a hilltop outside of town pursuing “invisible castles," a hilltop inside of town — Kootenay Lake Hospital — should have been getting the George estate’s money.
Shaw said he anticipated a defence submission to prevent Singleton’s incarceration on the grounds of his health.
Singleton, dressed in a dark suit, sat at a table with his eyes closed for much of the hearing. When the judge asked if he would like to sit next to his lawyer to better hear the proceedings, he replied: “I might as well sit here."
In the latest of many delays that have marked the case, Singleton’s former lead lawyer is ill and has withdrawn. His new lawyer won’t be able to make sentencing submissions until September 15 and 16. Singleton, 77, remains on bail.