A former Vancouver Pride Society treasurer will spend three months in jail and pay a $41,484 fine after pleading guilty to falsifying clients’ income tax returns, a provincial court judge ruled April 4.
Christiane von Pfahlenburg-Marienburg, 51, was led away by a sheriff after being sentenced by Judge Jodie Werier for evading or attempting to evade taxes on behalf of 18 clients, totalling $55,313.23, between 2003 and 2007. “He overstated or invented business expenses for clients,” Crown prosecutor Nils Preshaw said.
Von Pfahlenburg-Marienburg pleaded guilty on Nov 30.
Preshaw had argued for four months in jail and a fine of 75 percent of the amount involved.
“I do believe a jail sentence is warranted,” Werier said. “The clients of Mr von Pfahlenburg were significantly affected and had to repay refunds or pay appropriate amounts.”
Preshaw called it “a serious breach of trust.”
Von Pfahlenburg-Marienburg, who represented himself in court, said he should serve 30 days. However, a pre-sentencing report noted von Pfahlenburg-Marienburg had committed some of the offences while on probation for a civil matter.
Further, the court heard, he had already spent 30 days in jail last November after BC Supreme Court Justice Shelley Fitzpatrick found him guilty of breaching a court order. The breach involved a 2006 order preventing von Pfahlenburg-Marienburg from representing himself as a lawyer, a member of the Law Society of BC or a practitioner of foreign law.
Werier said that contempt conviction shows von Pfahlenburg-Marienburg is not capable of following a court order and that jail time is needed.
Von Pfahlenburg-Marienburg denied assertions in the report that he showed no remorse for his crime. “I am actually 100 percent responsible,” he said, taking responsibility for the actions of his staff and “a disgruntled employee who provided misleading information to the Crown.”
“This has been a traumatic and very difficult experience for me,” he added.
Von Pfahlenburg-Marienburg had been representing himself despite suggestions form the court that he obtain counsel. He had maintained he could not afford to do so. The pre-sentencing report was “devastating” for von Pfahlenburg-Marienburg, Preshaw told Werier. He says it called von Pfahlenburg-Marienburg a “resentful and untruthful person… motivated by self-interest.”
Further, it says, von Pfahlenburg-Marienburg “has no insight into his own failings and will continue to victimize those… who are gullible enough to trust him.”
Preshaw said von Pfahlenburg-Marienburg did not benefit directly from the offence for which he was convicted. Rather, he told Werier, von Pfahlenburg-Marienburg benefited by increasing his client base.
The case began in 2008 when a client noted in his tax return that von Pfahlenburg-Marienburg had “grossly overstated” his business expenses. The client took his taxes to another preparer and had them redone. That preparer then called Canada Revenue Agency, which began to review all returns prepared by von Pfahlenburg-Marienburg. Warrants were subsequently issued and von Pfahlenburg-Marienburg’s home and storage locker searched.
In discussing the fine, Werier asked von Pfahlenburg-Marienburg how long he would need to pay. “I’m spitting distance to bankruptcy at this point,” he told Werier. She gave him two years.
Von Pfahlenburg-Marienburg then asked if he could report to jail later so he could take care of personal matters and kennel his dogs. “They have phones in prison,” Preshaw told Werier. “I see no reason to delay Your Honour’s passing sentence.”
Von Pfahlenburg-Marienburg apparently made some calls as Werier wrote the sentence and was seen handing keys to a friend in court before going to jail.
Sitting close by were 84-year-old John Crawford and his wife, whose victim impact statement was among 18 Werier was given. Crawford told Xtra they met von Pfahlenburg-Marienburg at a seniors’ program and decided to hire him to help with their financial affairs. He says von Pfahlenburg-Marienburg soon became hard to reach and excuses multiplied as problems began to surface.
Crawford says he and his wife gave von Pfahlenburg-Marienburg power of attorney over their accounts. The couple alleges von Pfahlenburg-Marienburg took them for $50,000. “At our age, we need it,” Crawford says. “He cheated us. We virtually considered him a friend. The sad part is the breach of trust.”
Von Pfahlenburg-Marienburg was initially charged on six counts alleging he was involved in understating the taxable incomes of 235 clients to a total of almost $782,091.
Von Pfahlenburg-Marienburg served briefly on the Vancouver Pride Society as both treasurer and secretary. He resigned on April 10, 2007, citing “weak leadership… a lack of clear constructive vision for the society, the fractured nature of the board and the absence of administrative and procedural governance.”