A disbarred lawyer and mother of four young children was led out of a downtown Toronto courtroom in handcuffs Thursday after a judge sentenced her to three years in prison for two theft convictions relating to a real estate partnership with a well-known diet doctor.
Saying he took “no pleasure” in handing her a penitentiary sentence, Justice Michael Code told Norma Walton, 49, there were no “exceptional mitigating circumstances” in this case that would justify a departure from the normal three- to five-year range.
“I am satisfied that Ms. Walton’s otherwise good character and her standing in the community cannot mitigate her moral culpability for this kind of offence, which depends for its commission on trust of that very character and standing,” Code said reading from his 16-page decision.
“I also note that the pattern of collateral acts of dishonesty employed by Ms. Walton, both to commit the offences and then to cover them up … tends to cast doubt on her character for honesty in situations where she is under pressure and needs money.”
After a four-week trial, a jury convicted Walton in June of two counts of theft for arranging — and then diverting to various places — $6 million worth of mortgage financing without the required consent of her business partner, Dr. Stanley Bernstein. The jury acquitted her of fraud and her husband, Ronauld Walton, of theft.
Between 2010 and 2013, Bernstein invested about $110 million in 32 real estate projects that Walton bought and developed. The partnership imploded after Bernstein began to have concerns and directed his accountant to look into the projects. He discovered the two unauthorized $6 million mortgages and the fact Walton had used some of his money to purchase a $10 million mansion in the Bridle Path, Canada’s most exclusive neighbourhood where he also lives.
The jury’s verdict did not attach a dollar figure to the thefts. Crown attorney Craig Power argued the $6 million net proceeds of the mortgages were fraudulently obtained. Walton’s lawyer, Howard Cohen, said that only $460,000 was the subject of a theft when it was transferred to the Waltons’ personal bank account and used to pay debts and personal needs.
Code said he found the “true quantum” of the two thefts lay somewhere in between and put the figure at just under $1.8 million.
The judge also imposed a fine of $220,286 and gave Walton five years to pay after her release from custody, with two years in prison in default of payment. She and her husband also have a $66 million civil judgment hanging over their heads.
After Code wished her luck and told her to “look after yourself,” Walton removed her red jacket and handed it to her husband. Dressed in a black turtleneck and pants, she put her arms behind her back and remained composed while court officers steered her out of court.
Michael Kohl, Ronauld Walton’s defence lawyer during the trial, said he will now act for Norma Walton on her appeal which has been filed. Walton could be free on bail pending appeal as early as Friday.
Kohl released a statement on her behalf.
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“Norma must now go to jail for her decision to partner with Dr. Bernstein,” reads the statement.
“She regrets the mistakes she has made. She is heartbroken for her children, her husband and her parents. And she is worried about how her children will be emotionally and financially supported while she is in jail. She is distraught by what the immediate future will hold. She is disillusioned and disappointed by the justice system given its failure to prevent its monied manipulation for malevolent ends.”