By SHERRI MINTO, Flipside*
PROVING ONCE AGIN that there is “One law for the rich and another for the poor,” former hockey czar Alan Eagleson has been treated with kid gloves despite his shady dealings and criminal activities.
The government, media, and law enforcement agencies have been soft on Eagleson, a former Tory Party president and provincial Party candidate.
Eagleson stole from players who entrusted their paycheques and financial future to him.
He was busy lining his own pockets, all the while telling people of the hard work and good deeds that he was doing for the NHL players he represented. Someone else who caused this amount of damage would not see the light of day for years.
As it stands now, the only damage incurred by Eagleson is a ruined reputation and some lousy fines that he probably won’t even end up paying. He is in jail but could conceivably be walking the streets tomorrow. All he has to do is apply for a day pass.
Although Eagleson was indicted by a U.S. federal grand jury in 1992, it was not until July of 1995 that the RCMP finally raided his office, after an American reporter broke the story of his corruption.
It’s no wonder so much time elapsed before a full-scale investigation into Eagleson’s dealings. He was chummy with former PM Brian Mulroney and many others of the Canadian establishment. He had friends in high places who shielded him from public scrutiny and who were rewarded for their efforts.
“He’s one of the most powerful people in Canada. He’s close friends with the Prime Minister, cabinet ministers, judges, many people in Parliament,” said Louis Robichaud, former Premier of New Brunswick.
“Alan gets anything he wants. And he takes pretty good care of them [his friends in high places] too.”
Eagleson was indicted on 32 counts of racketeering, fraud and embezzlement. It was at this time that he agreed to the demand by The Law Society of Upper Canada that he not practise law in the province of Ontario.
Eagleson is a hockey-hall-of-famer, and onetime national hero following the 1972 Canada Cup series with the Soviets.
Players had complained about Eagleson for years to no avail. He often bullied and embarrassed any player who dared ask questions regarding his conduct of union affairs. Eagleson was responsible for putting his own unelected people on the executive of the NHL players association, stole from players who suffered career-ending injuries, scammed the NHL pension fund and cultivated a pattern of pocket-lining sweetheart deals with the NHL.
Finally, though, Eagleson plea bargained and was convicted of three counts of fraud over the sale of rink-board advertising for Canada Cup international hockey tournaments he organized in 1984, ‘87 and ‘91.
Many Eagleson critics, however, do not consider his 18-month jail sentence and $1-million payment to a restitution fund in the United States, to be justice.
Eagleson pleaded guilty in Toronto earlier this month to three counts of fraud, which followed a guilty plea in Boston to three counts of mail fraud.
The image of the hockey czar was further tarnished with his disbarment last week by The Law Society of Upper Canada. Eagleson was charged as having conducted himself in a manner “unbecoming a solicitor and barrister.” A spokesman for The Law Society called disbarment “the most serious punishment a lawyer can face.” However, after not having practised law for over ten years, the disbarment is not likely to alter Eagleson’s life in any significant way. Critics call the disbarment a “toothless gesture with no consequence for Eagleson.” Brian Greenspan, Eagleson’s lawyer, agreed that the punishment will have “no real impact” on Eagleson’s future.
The Law Society’s disciplinary committee, after receiving a joint submission from Eagleson’s lawyer Brian Greenspan and Glen Stuart, a law society staffer, has recently decided to withdraw a 44-charge complaint of professional misconduct levied against Eagleson, a move which critics believe could have serious repercussions.
Carl Brewer, former Maple Leafs great, said that “by withdrawing the complaint of professional misconduct, the law society served to discourage players involved from launching civil suits against Eagleson.” Had the society found him guilty of misconduct, the players who have been wronged by Eagleson would have been given significant leverage in future civil lawsuits against Eagleson.
However, Edmonton hockey agent Rich Winter, who in 1991 laid a formal complaint against Eagleson with the law society, said that he accepts the way the society is resolving his complaint. “I don’t really have a problem with it. He’s getting the electric chair in terms of the most serious penalty the law society can levy…You can only shoot a guy so many times.”
To date, Eagleson has been ordered to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to those players he represented whom he bilked of insurance money. Eagleson’s lawyer has asked that the payments be set aside until an appeal court can rule on the initial decision by Ontario Court Judge Joseph O’Brien. O’Brien ruled in December 1996 that Eagleson cheated a former client of insurance money. Sadly, Eagleson’s victims will not see any restitution for the next four years, if ever. Due to a court backlog, the appeal will not be heard until the year 2001.
*Flipside was a webzine published by Dr James Winter, professor of communication studies at the University of Windsor, from 1995-2000. The date of publication is approximate.
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