Fashion mogul Peter Nygard denied bail by Canadian judge

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Fashion mogul Peter Nygard denied bail by Canadian judge
A picture of Peter Nygard is displayed in his store in New York on May 8, 2019. The Canadian fashion mogul Peter Nygard was denied bail by a Manitoba judge on Friday, Feb. 5, 2021, meaning he could spend years in jail while fighting extradition to the United States, where he faces charges of sex trafficking, racketeering conspiracy and other crimes that are said to have victimized dozens of women and teenage girls. Elizabeth D. Herman/The New York Times.

by Catherine Porter

NEW YORK (NYT NEWS SERVICE).- Canadian fashion mogul Peter Nygard, whose palatial Bahamian home was once featured on “Lifestyles of The Rich and Famous,” now faces years in jail after a Manitoba judge denied him bail Friday.

He will remain behind bars while awaiting extradition to the United States, where he has been charged with sex trafficking, racketeering conspiracy and other crimes involving dozens of women and teenage girls.

The playboy multimillionaire, who traveled between his many homes by private jet with an entourage of young women, is accused of using his company’s influence, money and employees to recruit adult and “minor-aged female victims” over 25 years in the United States, the Bahamas and Canada for his sexual gratification and that of his associates. A nine-count federal indictment was filed against him by the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan in December.

Nygard has been in jail in Winnipeg, Manitoba, since his arrest Dec. 14. He has suffered fainting spells, lost weight and become “violently sick” from the sugar-and-carbohydrate-rich prison food, he said in an affidavit.

“We are disappointed for our 79-year-old client. But we’ll continue to fight on,” said Jay Prober, one of Nygard’s lawyers. He maintained what he had said many times in court, that keeping Nygard in jail where the coronavirus raged was tantamount to a “death sentence.”

In her decision, Justice Shawn Greenberg said she had no confidence that Nygard would comply with a bail order to have no contact with the alleged victims, since he had a history of ignoring court orders. And while she had taken into account the high rates of coronavirus in jail, and Nygard’s poor health, she said the pandemic “is not a get out of jail free card.”

It has been a spectacular reversal of fortune for the former business mogul, who, until last year, was the head of a multinational women’s fashion company, Nygard International, that he owned privately and had built from scratch. It was known mostly for selling leggings and tops to middle-age women through its own outlets and department stores, and at its peak claimed 12,000 employees.

It made Nygard very rich. In 2014, Canadian Business magazine estimated his wealth at $750 million.

But since federal authorities raided his home in Los Angeles and corporate headquarters in New York last year, Nygard has lost all his money, his lawyers said. His company filed for bankruptcy in Canada and in the United States.

Nygard appeared in court via video link from jail, seeming like a shell of the man once plastered on billboards in New York’s Times Square and Winnipeg’s airport. His gray hair, normally coifed in a lion’s mane, was tied back in a messy bun. He wore a face mask and jail-issued gray-blue shirt, and sat staring straight ahead, offering no visible reaction to the judge’s decision.

It is relatively rare in Canada to be denied bail, particularly for people with no criminal record like Nygard, said Seth Weinstein, a criminal defense lawyer in Toronto who co-authored a book on extradition cases.

Prober said he would wait for more information from the U.S. prosecutors regarding the charges before deciding his client’s next steps. It is very unlikely a challenge by Nygard to his extradition would be successful, experts said.

“In Canada, it is nearly impossible not to be extradited, especially to our good friends, the U.S.,” said Robert Currie, a professor of international criminal law at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He added that wealthy people who exhaust all legal means might stave off extradition for a couple of years.

In Canada, the bail system is largely predicated on community trust and connections and does not involve large cash deposits and commercial bail bondmen, as it does in many U.S. states.

Instead, in most cases, the accused is required to find one or more “sureties” — usually a family member or lifelong friend who pledges collateral, often in the form of property. More importantly, they also agree to oversee the accused, ensuring that the defendant follows the bail terms laid out by the court, and to alert the police of any transgressions.

In Nygard’s case, none of his 10 children, past girlfriends or long-standing business executives who helped build his company showed up in court as proposed sureties. Instead, it was two employees: one a former construction manager with a criminal record for cocaine trafficking and a previous association with the Hells Angels motorcycle club, and the other a former director who still works for Nygard overseeing the company’s bankruptcy procedure.

The second, Greg Fenske, offered a recently purchased house as security, but later admitted in court it had been bought with Nygard’s money. Greenberg called this “deceptive” and said it revealed that Nygard had power to direct his employees to do his bidding.

“What was very, very noticeable was that when push comes to shove, all he had were people who worked for him, one of whom didn’t put up any of his own money,” said Danny Gunn, a criminal lawyer in Winnipeg who has worked on extradition cases. He said fewer people come forward in sex crimes, but still, “It’s the absence of support that is so startling here.”

During the bail proceedings last month, Prober said the case’s “scandalous media coverage” had made it “impossible to find sureties to come forward.”

Nygard can challenge the decision to deny him bail, but only on the grounds that the judge made a legal error or that there was a material change in his circumstances, according to legal experts. He cannot simply present a new bail plan, lawyers said.

© 2021 The New York Times Company

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