Swindler gets five years in prison

…Crackower's sentence was too lenient and pales in comparison to penalties for fraud in the U.S. Crackower is eligible for parole in 20 months. "It's just sad,"" Eisenberg said. "It's pathetic."

The Toronto Star
July 7, 2006

Swindler gets five years in prison
Financial planner fleeced seniors. Crackower told to repay money.
Tony Van Alphen

He celebrated weddings, anniversaries and birthdays with them. He stood by the graves of their loved ones. He visited them in hospitals and homes when they were ill. He helped them with small chores and won their confidence.

Then, he fleeced them of their life savings.

And yesterday, Earl Crackower, their former trusted financial planner, went to federal prison.
Madam Justice Petra Newton sentenced the 63-year-old swindler of seniors to a five-year term behind bars and ordered him to pay $3.4 million in restitution to 43 former clients and their families.

"Your conduct deprived these people of dignity and respect and the ability to care for their families and themselves in their sunset years," Newton told a packed courtroom filled with seniors.

Victims clapped when a court guard snapped a set of handcuffs on the casually dressed Crackower and led him away. He pleaded guilty to fraud earlier this year.

Crown attorney Donna Gillespie told the court that the veteran financial planner - a past president of the Jewish charity, Toronto Freedom Lodge, and a bagpipe player at B'nai Brith conventions - artfully manipulated and plotted "the financial, emotional and physical destruction" of his clients, including many elderly women, from 1989 to 2003.

"With one hand, the accused was winning his victims' confidences while with the other, he was stealing their future, their life savings, their health, their ability to trust other people, their sense of self respect and their dignity," she said.

"Where once there was hope, there is now an abyss of shame and self-doubt. … He led many of them down the road to near destitution."

Victim after victim spoke about how Crackower's actions caused stress within families, forced them to move to cheaper accommodation, get part-time jobs to help make up for the losses and made it impossible to buy gifts for their grandchildren or leave them anything when they die.

"Mr. Crackower is an embarrassment to humanity," concluded Anne Eisenberg after recounting how he defrauded her parents of more than $560,000, split the family and left everyone struggling.

"I was angry and embarrassed that I could be deceived by this charlatan," said Barry Dupuis, who lost $250,000 and a comfortable retirement. "I do want to say to Mr. Crackower, damn you."

Before Newton sentenced him, Crackower, who is unemployed and disabled, said he felt remorseful for his actions and the subsequent misery of victims.

"I've done a stupid thing," he said.

Sporting a blue shirt, brown trousers and white sneakers, Crackower noted he had paid a personal price with the loss of his career, his third wife, family and friends.

A supporting letter from friend Ernie Rubenstein also said Crackower is remorseful and occasionally buys a lottery ticket in the hope of instantly paying everyone back.

But Gillespie said Crackower, a former planner at Toronto-based Worldsource Financial Management Inc., has made no offer of restitution.

She charged that since Crackower has no addictions, zero assets and minimal debt obligations, he must have spent the money on either an "extremely opulent, self-indulgent lifestyle," placed it beyond the reach of authorities or transferred funds for the benefit of an undisclosed party.

"Put simply, your honour, $3 million plus does not simply vanish," Gillespie said.

In response, Crackower's lawyer Martin Kerbel stressed there is no evidence that his client has any assets, hid money or lived a lavish lifestyle. He pointed out that a major forensic auditing firm investigated the allegations and found nothing.

But Eisenberg painted a different picture of Crackower in her statement to the court.

She said Crackower told her ailing father, a Holocaust survivor, in taped conversations that he would face jail if he called police about missing investment money.

"How could any human being threaten a weak, old man who had already suffered at the hands of the worst cruelty known to man," she said tearfully.

"That was not part of stealing the money. That was emotional torture and abuse."

Grace Babcock, who lost $130,000, said she had to move from her apartment of 20 years to a cousin's basement.

"I cannot hope to see what I had before," she said in her statement.

Dupuis said the revelations about Crackower's fraud devastated him and his family.

"Mr. Crackower caused us to lose our retirement," he added. "And I don't believe he is remorseful."
Jason Burns, whose wife lost $50,000, agreed and added that if Crackower was contrite, he would make some gesture at paying back the money.

Outside court, Burns and Eisenberg said Crackower's sentence was too lenient and pales in comparison to penalties for fraud in the U.S. Crackower is eligible for parole in 20 months.

"It's just sad," Eisenberg said. "It's pathetic."

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