Convicted Producer Garth Drabinsky Gets "Day Parole" to a Halfway House
By Kenneth Jones
White collar criminal Garth Drabinsky — the theatre impresario who once ran the Broadway producing organization Livent, which collapsed in a $500 million financial scandal — has been granted "day parole" and will serve the rest of his five-year fraud conviction sentence in a more open "halfway house" in Toronto, the Parole Board of Canada decided on Oct. 24.
According to published reports, the 62-year-old, Tony Award-winning producer (Barrymore, Show Boat, Kiss of the Spider Woman) testified via videolink before a panel, weeping about his experience, but not admitting criminality. He did say that he felt he pushed his employees into wrongdoing, but was not aware of crime.
"I drove people tremendously hard in the company," he said in the hearing, according to a report in the Globe and Mail. "I drove them to succeed through my flawed ambition and creative hunger, which was not grounded in greed. I pushed the envelope too far."
He said that he "walked away from the details" of the accounting, and admitted, "I should never have been CEO of the company. That was a mistake."
The producer was convicted of fraud and forgery in 2009. Due to his earlier appeal request, Drabinsky's incarceration began in September 2011; Canadian law allows freedom during an appeal.
"The board decided his risk to reoffend was not undue and that he was a manageable risk in the community," Parole Board of Canada spokesperson Albert Montagnese said after the three-hour hearing, according to Canadian Press. Reporters from Canadian Press and the Toronto Globe and Mail were witness to the hearing and reported about it. The Parole Board will not be providing a transcript of the hearing, a spokesman told Playbill.com.
Drabinsky requested full parole six months after the coming move (the release to the halfway house is a six-month period), but the panel called that idea "premature." Drabinsky testified from the minimum-security Beaver Creek Institution in Gravenhurst, Ontario, 200 miles north of Toronto. His wife and two children were with him.
Drabinsky's new, relative freedom comes with conditions: He may not own or operate any business, he may not become self-employed or manage financial aspects of any organization.
He is eligible for day parole beginning Nov. 11. In Canada, "day parole" means authority is granted to an offender to be at large during the offender's term of imprisonment in order to prepare the offender for a full parole. Day parole requires the offender to returnto a penitentiary, a community-based residential facility or a provincial correctional facility each night.
At the parole hearing, the producer who once brought the glitter of The Phantom of the Opera to Toronto and the thrill of starry new works to Broadway (he is pals with Barrymore Tony winner Christopher Plummer) characterized the first month of his sentence, at maximum-security Millhaven prison in Kingston, Ontario, as "devastating." He reportedly cried at the hearing as he spoke of the Governor-General's recent plan to strip him of the Order of Canada honor, given to him for is contribution to national arts.
Drabinsky, whose Broadway Livent-linked shows in the 1990s and 2000s included Ragtime, Parade, Barrymore, Fosse, Seussical and more, was convicted on two counts of fraud and one count of forgery in 2009. The fraud and forgery convictions against Drabinsky and Myron Gottlieb (sentenced to seven and six years, respectively) were upheld by the Ontario Court of Appeal in fall 2011. At that time, the court reduced their prison sentences by two years.
They were convicted of falsifying accounting statements over the decade-long (1989-98) life of Livent, as they raised $500 million in Canada and the U.S. to support their North American theatre-owning and producing empire.
Accounting irregularities at Livent were investigated in the late 1990s, when the company was reaching artistic fruition with the new musical Ragtime, which opened Livent's new Ford Center for the Performing Arts on Broadway (the venue, now called Foxwoods Theater, is a merging of the facades of two vintage Broadway theatres). Ragtime would end up winning 1998 Tony Awards for Best Book of a Musical and Best Score, among others. (Fosse, which won a 1999 Tony as Best Musical, was then in the works.) By late 1998, the decade-old company declared bankruptcy and collapsed, and the stock was worthless. Bloomberg reported that the company's peak value was $269 million in 1996.
Drabinsky and Gottlieb are still wanted men in the U.S. In 1999 they were charged with fraud by the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Southern District of New York.
In 1999 Livent's properties were bought by SFX Entertainment, which is now Live Nation.
Drabinsky's Livent, Inc., won Tony Awards for Best Musical (Fosse and Kiss of the Spider Woman) and Best Revival of a Musical (Show Boat), and its productions netted scores of nominations and many wins for artists.
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