Former Oilers owner Pocklington pleads guilty to perjury

RIVERSIDE, Calif. – Former Edmonton Oilers owner Peter Pocklington pleaded guilty to one count of perjury in a California courtroom Thursday, but once outside he and his lawyer seemed to downplay the felony offence as an "error" and the result of bad legal advice.

Pocklington admitted his guilt as part of a plea bargain that could see him avoid jail time.

The 68-year-old – who owned the Oilers franchise during their storied late-1980s run of five Stanley Cups – initially was charged with two counts of bankruptcy fraud after he filed a claim stating he had $19.6 million in liabilities and assets of less than $3,000.

He had been facing a maximum of 10 years on the bankruptcy fraud charges.

Pocklington agreed in U.S. District Court on Thursday that he had failed to declare that he had sole control of property and bank accounts belonging to someone else when he filed for bankruptcy in August 2008.

Court heard Pocklington had sole signing authority for two bank accounts and two storage lockers, which contained funds and property he claims belongs to his wife, Eva.

In court, Pocklington, a businessman who once aspired to be prime minister, frankly admitted he committed the perjury in the bankruptcy proceeding.

"Are you pleading guilty because you did what you in fact were charged with?" asked District Court Judge Virginia Phillips.

"Yes," said Pocklington, who stood at his lawyer’s side at the front of the court during the half-hour proceeding in picturesque Riverside, about 130 kilometres southeast of Los Angeles.

But later, on the steps of the courthouse, both Pocklington and his lawyer, Brent Romney, downplayed the significance of the offence and maintained Pocklington wasn’t trying to hide assets from the bankruptcy court.

"Obviously, I made the error," Pocklington told reporters.

"I signed it with the prompting of my then-bankruptcy lawyer. After I signed it I believe I erred in signing it because I don’t believe it was correct."

Romney said the bankruptcy creditors were aware of the property in dispute.

"I think the thing that happened in this case was the United States Attorney was concerned that Mr. Pocklington had left that information out because he had an intent to defraud creditors," said Romney.

"When we were able to provide him a large amount of information it became very clear, I believe . . . that the omissions that were made – although they were serious – there was no intent to defraud anyone."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Sean Lokey said the court wouldn’t be impressed if Pocklington was admitting his guilt in court and denying it outside court.

"If Mr. Pocklington at this point has told the court under oath what he did and that’s what the courts rely on – and we all rely on – for the truth. If he is going to come out here and say something different . . . certainly things will be taken into account at sentencing," he said.

"Mr. Pocklington pleaded guilty today to a felony account of perjury," he added. "It’s a serious crime. It’s making a material false statement to the bankruptcy court. He admitted he did it and he made the statement wilfully."

Pocklington agreed to plead guilty in exchange for the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s recommendation for probation and six-months house arrest.

Pocklington must file tax returns from 2006 to 2008 declaring his income and he must file a new detailed financial statement with the bankruptcy, setting out all his assets before his sentencing Aug. 9, Lokey said.

Judge Phillips advised Pocklington that by pleading guilty he gives up his right to appeal the conviction as well as the sentence, which she said could be higher or lower than the recommendation. He also gives up other constitutional rights and could face deportation.

Pocklington told the judge that he recently applied for a green card for permanent residency in the United States. He told reporters he would like to stay.

"I enjoy the market in the U.S. and enjoy a lot of things about the U.S., especially the weather," said Pocklington, who lives in nearby Palm Desert.

The flamboyant entrepreneur, who once ran for the federal Progressive Conservative leadership that was subsequently won by Brian Mulroney, declined to comment when he was asked about the emotional impact of his felony conviction, but his lawyer said it has taken a toll.

"After 68 years of honest conduct where he has never been accused of any type of crime, to have to plead guilty to a felony at this late date in his life, certainly that is very discouraging," said Romney.

Pocklington said he just wants to put the criminal charges behind him and resolve the bankruptcy.

"I am excited to get along with the rest of my life," he said. "It’s behind me now."

Pocklington had nothing to say to his creditors, but he indicated the Alberta government has little chance of collecting the $13 million ($2 million plus 22 years interest) it says he owes it.

"I guess what goes through my mind is the fact an Alberta government can charge me for $2 million that was not given to me – never had it in my possession. It was given to Gainers regarding a dispute that went on 20 years ago. They went to court and got an interest judgment for $10 or $11 million on the $2 million I never got," he said. "It’s in my opinion a debt which I obviously don’t owe, but it will be covered by the bankruptcy court here. My assets are close to nil."

Pocklington was arrested March 11, 2009, when FBI agents swooped down on his Palm Desert, Calif., home and rousted his family from bed.


Comments are closed.