Ritter didn’t breach court order: lawyer
Charles Rusnell, Journal Staff Writer
Published: Saturday, July 01, 2006
EDMONTON – Edmonton businessman Michael Ritter made no serious attempt to hide the fact that he changed his name and obtained a Belizean passport under his new name while he awaited an extradition hearing on charges he took part in a $250-million fraud scheme.
This is proof, his lawyer told court Friday, that Ritter did not intend to breach a court-ordered recognizance that he not obtain another passport.
“Mr. Ritter, like Col. Mustard, has left clues all over the place so the police can go around and pick them up,” lawyer Robbie Davidson told court on the final day of Ritter’s trial for breach of recognizance, a charge that carries a penalty of up to two years in jail.
The charges against Ritter stem from an October 2003 order. Ritter, Alberta’s former chief parliamentary counsel, had been indicted in the United States for his alleged role in a $250-million US Ponzi scheme, in which money from later investors is used to pay earlier ones. He had been arrested by RCMP on behalf of American authorities.
To gain bail, Ritter signed a recognizance in which he agreed to surrender his passport, not to get another one and not to leave Alberta. The wealthy businessman also put up $100,000 in cash and $150,000 worth of security in his house.
On Friday, Davidson focused much of his summation on Ritter’s interaction with Casey O’Byrne, the lawyer who helped him get out of jail on bail. In earlier testimony, O’Byrne acknowledged helping Ritter get released. He also admitted signing Ritter’s name-change application, but said he didn’t read the document and thought it was for a name change in Canada, not Belize, where Ritter is also a citizen. O’Byrne also conceded his signature appears on Ritter’s passport application, but he insisted he had no recollection of signing the document or discussing it with Ritter.
Davidson argued that O’Byrne knew the terms of Ritter’s recognizance and if there had been a problem with him changing his name and obtaining a new passport, he should have told Ritter.
Crown prosecutor Greg Lepp offered a much different theory to the court. He said Ritter conspired with O’Byrne to get the Belizean passport so he could flee if his extradition became imminent.
Lepp said Ritter did not think he would get caught, and he did only after one of his employees discovered a scanned copy of the Belizean passport on Ritter’s office computer and turned it over to the RCMP.
He noted that when a judge had ordered Ritter to turn in his passports, he surrendered his Canadian passport but did not tell the court about another passport from Belize he held in his own name. He had to turn that passport in to get yet another Belizean passport, this one in the name of Adam d’Orleans.
The judge is expected to issue his ruling sometime in August.
Check out the complete Michael Ritter Chronology…