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Fraud grew out of former CHEK TV sales rep's addiction, Victoria court told

Mar 16 2012

The scheme by a former advertising sales rep at CHEK TV who defrauded friends in the business community out of more than $176,000 was simplistic, destined for failure and grew out of the agonies of a gambling addiction, Michael Muir’s defence lawyer said Thursday in B.C. Supreme Court.

“The Crown has described the offences as a classic Ponzi scheme — complex, deliberate and planned,” Michael Hutchison told Muir’s sentencing hearing. “It was anything but.”

Muir, 43, has pleaded guilty to five counts of fraud over $5,000 between June 2007 and January 2009.

At the hearing, which began in January, Crown prosecutor Laura Ford asked Justice Robert Johnston to impose a prison sentence of two to 21⁄2 years. Hutchison suggested a 12- to 18-month conditional sentence would be appropriate.

Johnston has indicated he will need some time before delivering his decision.

Muir, who was a respected member of the media business community, persuaded friends he met in the business world to give him money. The friendships enabled the fraud, said Ford.

“The court should find the level of betrayal was high. It takes the case out of consideration for a conditional sentence order,” she said.

Hutchison argued Muir’s addiction to gambling and alcohol were substantial mitigating factors.

“This man is clearly a gambling addict,” Hutchison said. “Addiction played an overwhelming role in his morass of misconduct.”

The friendships were not created for the purpose of fraud, Hutchison said.

“There’s no evidence he went to them and said, ‘You can trust me, I’m your friend.’ ”

Muir’s victims should have had a greater consideration of what was placed before them, said Hutchison. “We’re not dealing with the kind of fraud where retirees are tricked into giving up their life savings.”

Muir, who is now working as a gardener, wants to make restitution. “He lost his job. He lost his reputation. But he has not lost his earnest desire to make restitution,” Hutchison said.

In February 2009, when Muir realized he could not pay his friends back, he was filled with self-revulsion and tried to kill himself, Hutchison said. Upon his release from hospital, he went directly to one of his friends and revealed what he had done. He told the other four victims at his bankruptcy hearing.

Putting Muir in jail won’t deter other gambling addicts in the community, Hutchison said, as addicts are incapable of taking into the consideration the consequences of their actions.

Muir now has insight into his misconduct and has taken responsibility for his actions, he said. He attends Gamblers Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous and knows he will need ongoing counselling.

ldickson@timescolonist.com

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