Ailing man who defrauded CRA found guilty on all charges

Rosie Mullaley rmullaley@thetelegram.com
Published on June 12, 2012
Harold J. Farr is seen in provincial court in St. John's today. He was found guilty on numerous charges of defrauding Canada Revenue Agency. — Photo by Rosie Gillingham/The Telegram

A man with a terminal illness who defrauded Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) an amount of $50,000 has been found guilty of all 29 charges against him.

In provincial court in St. John’s today, Harold J. Farr was found guilty of 28 counts of unlawfully making false entries in the records or accounts of taxpayers, under the Income Tax Act, and one count of breach of trust by an officer, under the Criminal Code of Canada.

The 52-year-old St. John’s man is dying of Huntington’s disease and, over a four-year period, stole $50,415.23 from CRA while he was employed there.

Between November 2004 and July 2008, while working in a supervisory position, he reset employees’ passwords to gain access to the CRA’s computer systems. Once he gained access, he falsified information for financial gain.

He made changes to income tax returns for himself, his wife, his father and his niece by increasing information about RRSP contributions, reports for personal income, net business income, medical expenses, spousal claims, charitable donations and child care expenses.

Farr has never denied what he did.

His defence centred around the claim that his disease drove him to do it.

Farr was diagnosed in 1994 with Huntington’s disease — an incurable, hereditary neurological disorder which causes cells in a specific part of the brain to deteriorate.

Symptoms include obsessive behaviour, aggressiveness and uncontrollable impulses — affecting a person’s abilities to think and reason.

Farr didn’t begin receiving treatment until October 2010.

During his sentencing hearing last month, lawyers argued whether Section 16 of the Criminal Code of Canada should or shouldn’t apply to Farr.

Section 16 states that an offender is not criminally responsible for committing a crime if he suffers from a mental disorder that renders him incapable of appreciating the nature and quality of the act or knowing it was wrong.

Neuropsychiatrist Dr. Hugh Mirolo, who has been treating Farr since October 2010, had testified that while Farr may have known he was committing a crime, he had no control to stop himself.

Mirolo said before he was treated, Farr had been showing symptoms of aggressiveness — challenging a car salesman three times his size to a fight — and impulsiveness — buying several dogs and hundreds of curling irons.

Mirolo explained to the court, at the time, Farr’s judgment and ability to make reasonable decisions were impaired by the disease.

But Judge Colin Flynn said he found it difficult to believe that Farr’s obsession was such that it extended over four years.

“I have difficulty concluding that in view of the deliberate nature of this enterprise and its sustained length that Mr. Farr was operating under some irresistible compulsion which propelled him to commit these offences without being able to resist doing so, while in other areas of his life, things were more normal,” the judge stated.

Flynn said the defence failed to prove that his actions were so affected by the disease that he was unable to appreciate the nature and quality of his acts.

“Even accepting that he felt compulsed to do these things, he knew what he was doing and the consequences of doing them …,” Flynn said. “He understood the nature of what he was doing and the consequences of what he was doing.”

Flynn said he wasn’t satisfied that Section 16 applied in this case.

“I have no doubt that Mr. Farr’s illness spurred him on to do things that he might not normally do,” the judge said.

“However, in that sense, Mr. Farr is no different from the hypothetical individual suffering from some other mental disorder who continually calls his ex-girlfriend because he obsesses about her. He, too, cannot stop himself, but he appreciates what he is doing and the consequences of it.”

Given the fact that Farr is dying, Halifax Crown prosecutor Constantin Draghici-Vasilescu told the judge that he and defence lawyer Robert Regular will be recommending a suspended sentence for Farr.

However, Flynn pointed out that a suspended sentence is not available under the Income Tax Act.

After a short review of the legislation, it was agreed that the mandatory minimum sentence under the Act is a fine — the total amount of the money taken.

The sentence under the Criminal Code charge is usually jail time, but it would be unlikely given Farr’s circumstance.

A sentencing hearing has been set for Sept. 7.