Prince Albert lawyer sentenced to 90 days in prison for fraud

Kristian Eggum knew or ought to have known that he was forwarding some residential school settlement claims on behalf of people who didn't go to residential school, Crown prosecutor says.

Prince Albert's Court of Queen's Bench. -- Herald file photo.

A Prince Albert lawyer is serving 90 days in prison on weekends and paying back $35,000 after pleading guilty to fraud.

Kristian Eggum pleaded guilty at the Court of Queen’s Bench last Friday. He was accused of submitting claims for people to the residential schools settlement with the federal government for people that he knew or ought to have known never went to residential school.

In total, evidence collected indicated that $233,000 in fraudulent claims were submitted through his office. He took 15 per cent, or $35,000 of those claims.

When the federal government agreed to a settlement agreement with the hundreds of people suing over impacts from the residential school system, a handful of mechanisms were set up for people who attended those schools to receive compensation.

One fund set up was the common experience fund, which would reimburse survivors who could show that they went to a residential school. They would get $10,000 for the first year they attended, and $3,000 for each year thereafter.

“It was meant to be an easy application process,” said Crown prosecutor Darren Howarth, who prosecuted the case against Eggum.

“You filled in the application and if it was confirmed, you would get the money you were entitled to as a survivor.”

The federal government, he said, acknowledged that they needed a process for independent verification, as not all schools had complete enrolment records.

As claims were coming forward, complaints came in to the RCMP from a pair of sources.

“Once was a complainant who said that he was in the community and he head hear that a lot of people were applying and receiving money through the law firm with Kris Eggum in Prince Albert, and they didn’t go,” Howarth explained.

The complainant, who did go, alleged that he knew others didn’t, and yet still submitted claims through Eggum’s office.

The second source was a series of intercepted communications from Pine Grove, the women’s prison located near Prince Albert’s northern border.

“There were essentially cheat notes on the answers to the verification question, and floorplans for the St. Michael’s Residential School in Duck Lake, which would allow people to pas the verification test, even if they didn’t go,” Howarth said.

“Those were forwarded to the RCMP and there was evidence from that relating it back to Kris Eggum’s law firm again.”

The RCMP investigated and interviewed almost 200 witnesses. Each one was offered immunity so that they would not be criminally charged if they came forward and spoke to the RCMP about others who had made false applications.

“As a result of that investigation, they had a number of individuals admitting that they didn’t go to Indian Residential School, and there was evidence that Mr. Eggum either directly knew or would have suspected that they did not go, and yet put forward those applications through his office,” Howarth said.

“That’s why he was charged with fraud over $5,000. The Crown had evidence that it believes it could have proved that $233,000 would have been paid out to numerous false claims — people who were not entitled to the money.”

A search warrant conducted at Eggum’s law firm seized his files, showing that he took the $35,000 for the firm.

As a part of his guilty plea, Eggum has already paid back $30,000 of misappropriated funds and has agreed to pay the remaining $5,000.

He is also subject to a probation order for three years, which includes a number of conditions including a curfew and an order to not practice law.

In addition, he’s been banned for 20 years from having authority over any money of any other person in any way, either through work, volunteering or any other capacity.

“I should say,” Howarth added, “there were almost 800 applications that went through his office. There were many valid applications that he processed too.”

Eggum is in his 80s and hasn’t practiced law since 2012. The Crown received evidence that he has dementia.

But while Eggum is serving his time, he’s not out of trouble yet. He will likely still face discipline from the Law Society of Saskatchewan.

In 2012, the law society issued Eggum an interim disciplinary suspension. He was accused of misappropriating trust funds and conflict of interest.

A law society spokesperson confirmed that those accusations, which are unproven, are unrelated to the fraudulent residential school settlement claims.

The spokesperson declined to comment further on the allegations of misappropriated client trust funds or the conflict of interest, as the society has not heard the case. The society was proceeding with those accusations when it learned of the criminal investigation, which took precedence.

The law society will likely review the conviction. They won’t have to reprove the allegations of fraud because Eggum was convicted. It is standard procedure, when a lawyer is convicted of a criminal offence, to review their membership in the law society and whether they can practice law in the province, the spokesperson said.

That process has not yet begun.

The accusations made by the law society eventually led to an investigation against one of Eggum’s partners in his firm, Peter V. Abrametz. Abrametz, who is not to be confused with his son, who also practices in Prince Albert. According to a ruling by the Law Society of Saskatchewan, which stated “By issuing cheques to the clients and having the clients endorse those cheques back to the member as payment for legal fees, the clients were enlisted to participate in the [Peter V. Abrametz’s] dishonest scheme.” *

He was disbarred and banned for applying for readmission until 2021. That punishment was stayed pending the results of an appeal. Abrametz is appealing the process and the penalty, which he deems “excessive.”

*This is a corrected story. The original version of this story, entitled “P.A. Lawyer to serve 90 days for fraud” which referred to Kristian Eggum, incorrectly stated the nature of professional misconduct committed by Peter V. Abrametz. According to a ruling by the Law Society of Saskatchewan which stated, “By issuing cheques to the clients and having the clients endorse those cheques back to the member as payment for legal fees, the clients were enlisted to participate in the [Peter V. Abrametz’s] dishonest scheme.” The Herald regrets the error.