A federal appeals court has quashed the jail sentence of former billionaire and one-time owner of the NHL Edmonton Oilers, Peter Pocklington.
A few decades ago, Pocklington was a billionaire Canadian businessman, but earned the wrath of his countrymen for trading the hockey-crazed country’s legendary player, Wayne Gretsky, to the Los Angeles Kings.
That wasn’t Pocklington’s biggest problem. By 2008, his empire had crumbled, leaving him bankrupt with $3,000 in assets and $19 billion in liabilities. He moved to the California desert enclave of Indian Wells but soon found himself charged with bankruptcy fraud for keeping $10,000 worth of his wife’s property in a storage locker without telling the bankruptcy court.
He was placed on two years probation from 2010 to October 26, 2012. As his probation was about to end, a lawyer for one of his creditors accused Pocklington of hiding ownership of a $2 million home, millions of dollars in assets and income and posts on four corporate boards.
After Pockington’s probation expired, the probation office sought a 90-day extension to investigate the claims. A trial judge revoked his probation in 2013 and sentenced him to six months in prison and two years additional probation.
Last week, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a judge does not have authority to retroactively reinstate an expired term of probation, nor to revoke the wrongly reimposed probation..
The law requires the government to issue a warrant or summons when it seeks an extension of a probation term, the court held.
The government didn’t do that. “When Congress used the words ‘warrant or summons’ it meant them,” Judge Margaret McKeown wrote. “Close enough doesn’t fly,” she said.
When the government suspects wrong-doing and it wants to extend probation the law “provides easy to follow instructions: get a warrant or summons before the probation expires,” she said.
The appeals court vacated the prison sentence and added probation.
Case: U.S. v. Pocklington, No. 13-50461