Livent duo plead not guilty

Curtain rises on criminal trial

Former Livent honcho and Tony-winner Garth Drabinsky and long-time associate Myron Gottlieb pleaded not guilty to falsifying financial statements and bilking investors out of C$500 million ($493.6 million), as the curtain rose on their long-awaited criminal fraud trial before an Ontario Supreme Court Justice on Monday.

Arrested in 2002 after a four-year probe by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the pair — who founded the now-defunct Livent, once North America’s largest producer of live theater — face two charges of fraud and one of forgery, reduced from an initial 19 charges. The charges, which span December 1989 to August 1998, carry a maximum penalty of 14 years.

Drabinsky, 58, and Gottlieb, 64, were also indicted in 1999 by the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York on 16 charges of conspiracy and fraud, but U.S. proceedings are deferred until the completion of the trial now under way in Toronto.

Seven former Livent employees, including former senior finance veep Gordon Eckstein and former chief financial officer Maria Messina, are expected to testify. During preliminary hearings in March, Drabinsky and Gottlieb chose to be tried in front of a judge instead of a jury.

High-profile Canadian criminal lawyer Edward Greenspan — who defended former press baron now jailbird Conrad Black in his fraud trial last summer — represents Drabinsky, while his brother Brian Greenspan acts for Gottlieb. The trial is expected to last into the fall.

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