Final chapter in $110M fraud case closes, as Hickman Equipment manager acquitted

·3 min read
William Parsons was acquitted at Supreme Court in St. John's on Friday, 20 years after he and three others were charged in a $110-million fraud scandal. (Malone Mullin/CBC - image credit)
William Parsons was acquitted at Supreme Court in St. John's on Friday, 20 years after he and three others were charged in a $110-million fraud scandal. (Malone Mullin/CBC - image credit)

A former sales executive implicated in Newfoundland and Labrador's longest-running fraud scandal has been acquitted.

William Parsons faced 20 fraud-related charges connected to his time with the long-defunct Hickman Equipment, which sold John Deere products before declaring bankruptcy in 2002.

The former vice-president of equipment sales was one of four managers charged.

Three of them — former chief financial officer Gary Hillyard, former general manager Hubert Hunt and former sales manager John King — were sentenced in 2018 to house arrest for their roles in the $110-million fraud case.

But Parsons, who says he has maintained his innocence from the outset, was told Friday that he's now a free man.

"This marks the end of what's been a 20-year ordeal for me and my family," Parsons told reporters, reading from a prepared statement. "I'm an innocent man that's been accused of many things that were not true, and today these false charges were finally put to rest."

It's the final chapter of Newfoundland and Labrador's lengthiest fraud scandal, the investigation into which started in 2002. The alleged crimes date back 10 years earlier, to 1992.

The four managers "were charged with fraud, conspiracy to commit fraud, falsifying books and documents, and circulating a false prospectus," wrote the Supreme Court in its 2017 summary of the case.

The Crown alleged that the four accused had engaged in selling equipment the company did not own.

Wells Fargo Equipment Finance Company, TD Asset Finance Corp. and General Motors Acceptance Corporation are among the companies Parsons had been accused of defrauding.

The late Albert E. Hickman, former chairman of the Hickman Group of Companies, previously told police he believed someone was trying to make up for losses incurred during a failed sales scheme. Hickman died in 2011.

CBC News
CBC News

But Parsons on Friday characterized his case as "the cause of the common man … against the powerful and the influential," describing the grief it had caused him and his family and lamenting the costs imposed by the legal proceedings on the public purse.

His lawyer, Bob Buckingham, suggested Parsons was no more than a scapegoat.

"The chief propagators of this scheme decided they had to lay the blame somewhere, and they came and they started pointing a finger at the low person on the rung," Buckingham said.

He repeatedly expressed disappointment to reporters that the case would not go to trial, saying his firm had spent months scanning and poring over financial documents that he planned to present as evidence.

A trial "would be much stronger, I think, having a much more public effect than the Crown folding its cards at the present time," Buckingham said.

Crown prosecutor Lloyd Strickland, also at the provincial Supreme Court in St. John's on Friday, said a witness in the trial — which had been scheduled for January — was now unavailable due to extenuating personal issues, and requested that Chief Justice Raymond Whalen dismiss all charges against Parsons.

Parsons said he could have accepted a plea bargain to avoid drawing out the case, but wanted the evidence his legal team accumulated to be part of the public record.

"I've never lied, and I wasn't going to come and make my first lie to a judge just to get off easier, just to walk away from it," Parsons said.

"I felt strongly about that. I felt that for integrity, and to do the right thing, this had to be dealt with in a way that was proper and open. Unfortunately, we're not going to get that chance."

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