Twenty-three years after he began stealing money from a dead man’s estate, disgraced Nelson lawyer Marvin Singleton has been sentenced to prison.
In addition to the three years in jail, Singleton was ordered to pay $494,633 in restitution to the BC Law Society.
Singleton’s defence counsel argued Thursday that he should receive a conditional sentence including two to four years house arrest.
Brock Martland told BC Supreme Court Judge Elizabeth Arnold-Bailey that Singleton should serve his sentence in the community, to be followed by probation, rather than being sent to prison.
The submission came five months after the Crown argued Singleton should serve three to six years in jail and be ordered to pay restitution.
He was convicted late last year of one count each of fraud and theft over $1,000.
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 horse logging equipment.
The BC Law Society later reimbursed the estate’s beneficiaries through a special compensation fund, paying out $559,878. The society also compensated beneficiaries of a second estate that Singleton handled, although criminal charges in that case were ultimately stayed.
Martland said a conditional sentence would be appropriate given Singleton’s age — he’s now 78 — and declining health.
“Likely he would not do terribly well [in prison],” Martland said. “Possibly he would die there. It’s not a pretty picture.”
He cited a doctor’s report that Singleton suffers from an Alzheimer’s-like form of dementia and has been hit by a series of small strokes.
He conceded Singleton’s breach of trust was an aggravating factor and that a “custodial” sentence is in order, but argued a “muscular, meaningful” conditional order could be meted out. He suggested the range should be less than two years to a maximum of four years.
Martland noted Singleton had no criminal record before or after his theft and introduced letters of support from Singleton’s daughter and others.
Martland described him as a “caring, supportive, and involved man who tries to help those close to him.” He also showed the judge pictures of Singleton’s garden.
Singleton, who taught at Notre Dame University in the 1970s and later practiced law in Nelson, moved to the U.S. after committing his crimes.
In 2004, he was arrested while teaching at a community college in Kansas.
For the last five years he has been on bail and under conditions not to leave Nelson. He lives at 318 Union Street, court heard, in a house owned by a woman described as his neighbour and caregiver.
Although the Crown is seeking a restitution order, the defence said it would only be symbolic, as Singleton has no means to pay and no employment prospects. He lives on social assistance, and has no significant assets.
Singleton offers statement
Martland said Singleton should receive some consideration for his loss of professional stature and two years he spent in a U.S. prison while fighting extradition — although the defence accepts there is no requirement in law that the latter be taken into account.
The Crown, however, said Singleton would have been out of prison much sooner had he agreed to return to Canada and face the charges. At most, prosecutor Elizabeth Campbell said, the court might credit him for two months in custody while awaiting transfer.
Campbell said Singleton knew in 1998 that a warrant had been issued for his arrest, and should not be rewarded for failing to return to face the music.
“It was a result of his decisions that he was in a U.S. jail,” she said.
She agreed Singleton’s age and health would be mitigating factors, but didn’t think it should result in a sentence of less than half of what the Crown is seeking. She added if a conditional sentence is imposed, the judge has to ensure the principles of general deterrence and denunciation are still met.
Singleton declined an opportunity to address the court, but offered a statement through his lawyer that he takes responsibility for what he did, and demonstrated that by “facing this head on.”
“Mr. Singleton came in here knowing there’s a possibility he may be facing a lengthy jail sentence,” Martland said. “He regrets this whole thing and the many decisions and roads not taken.”
Martland said Singleton feels his troubles started when Notre Dame closed and he began practicing law.
“If I had only had the presence of mind to continue teaching,” Martland quoted Singleton as saying. He said Singleton felt his decision to stay in Nelson was “fateful” and one he regrets.
Martland only recently took over the long-running case, likening it to “rolling in on the last act of a long, long play.”
Singleton appeared in court Thursday with his caregiver, but no one was in the gallery other than reporters.
(CORRECTION: This story originally stated incorrectly that Singleton was only ordered to pay $65,000 in restitution.)