Former Olympic rower gets 13-month jail sentence for fraud after pleading guilty

VICTORIA — A former Olympic rower who mysteriously disappeared for nearly 18 months has been sentenced to 13 months in jail after pleading guilty to fraud.

Harold Backer pleaded guilty Wednesday in Victoria provincial court to a single charge of fraud over $5,000.

The three-time Olympian had been facing two charges of fraud over $5,000 and had pleaded not guilty on both counts.

Judge Carmen Rogers also gave the former investment dealer three years of probation. In an agreed statement of facts, Backer promised to pay restitution of $161,900 to five people.

The sentence includes credit for one month of time served in jail.

Before he was led away from court, Backer hugged his two adult children and his older brother, who declined to answer questions outside court.

Backer disappeared on Nov. 3, 2015, when he failed to return home after telling his family he was going out for a bike ride. He surrendered to police in April 2017 and his whereabouts while he was missing haven’t been explained.

After his disappearance, police in Port Angeles, Wash., said an officer who viewed video from a street security camera noted a man fitting Backer’s description was aboard a ferry from Victoria, a 90-minute trip away.

The guilty plea was entered by defence lawyer Joven Narwal on behalf of Backer, a thin, bearded man who was dressed in a grey pinstripe suit.

Narwal said his client is extremely remorseful for his actions.

He said Backer, 55, has often expressed remorse in terms of an athlete letting down his team.

“Mr. Backer wants to express his deep remorse for his conduct through me,” Narwal said. “He does not wish to address the court. He’s let down the people who cared most deeply for him.”’

Backer never intended to defraud his investors, Narwal said.

“The investments, and let’s say the optimism related to these investments, did not bear the fruit he was hoping for. And so loses occurred.”

Soon after he disappeared, financial crime investigators began looking into Backer and the company My Financial Backer Corp. after his investors received letters that concerned them.

Backer was on the Canadian rowing team in the 1984, 1988 and 1992 Olympic Games.

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