VICTORIA — A former Olympic rower who mysteriously disappeared for nearly 18 months has pleaded guilty to fraud.
Harold Backer changed his plea Wednesday in Victoria provincial court on a single charge of fraud over $5,000.
The three-time Olympian had been facing two charges of fraud over $5,000 and pleaded not guilty on both counts.
Backer disappeared on Nov. 3, 2015, when he failed to return home after telling his family he was going out for a bike ride.
The investment dealer surrendered to police in April 2017 and his whereabouts before that period of time haven’t been explained.
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.
He was on the Canadian rowing team in the 1984, 1988 and 1992 Olympic Games.
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.”
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.
Crown attorney John Neal told Judge Carmen Rogers he was seeking a 13-month jail sentence and three years’ probation. He also wanted a no contact order for five people who lost money as a result of Backer’s fraud.