Ex-millionaire polygamist deep in debt

Winston Blackmore lists liabilities of $5.68 million and assets of $867,000

Vancouver Sun/April 1, 2010

Canada's best known polygamist Winston Blackmore was once an influential businessman in southeastern British Columbia with fancy cars, a plane and assets of more than $6 million.

As the bishop of Bountiful, a community outside Creston, he had access to politicians even though he and other members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints didn't hide their multiple wives.

Yet few locals complained. Bountiful's buying power helped float the Creston economy.

But everything's changed. Blackmore is no longer the FLDS bishop, although he remains spiritual leader to about half of Bountiful's 1,000 residents -- most are family members and more than 100 of them are Blackmore's children.

His companies teeter on bankruptcy. His nearly $6 million in debt means he can't get a $100,000 loan to pay his legal bills, and neither could his son, Jacob, who tried on his behalf.

At least that's what Blackmore says in an affidavit filed in B.C. Supreme Court to support his request that taxpayers pay for his participation in a reference case before the B.C. Supreme Court that will determine whether the anti-polygamy law is constitutional. The case has already attracted nine interveners, the majority of whom oppose polygamy.

Last week, Chief Justice Robert Bauman reserved judgment on Blackmore's request for a blank cheque to cover his legal fees as well as equal status to the attorneys-general of B.C. and Canada and the court-appointed "amicus."

Both of Blackmore's requests are unprecedented.

But this case is all about business as unusual, from the issue itself to the reference being heard in a trial court to his lawyer Joe Arvay trying to keep Blackmore's affidavit attesting to his "impecuniousness" secret without asking for a court order to have it sealed.

Even at more than 100 pages, Blackmore's affidavit, says Veronica Jackson of the B.C. Attorney-General's Ministry, is "woefully insufficient," "meagre and incomplete." One glaring omission is the names of family members with whom Blackmore "shares a degree of financial interdependence."

By his accounting, the former millionaire polygamist now has debts and liabilities of at least $5.68 million and assets of only $867,000.

Two of his companies are under bankruptcy protection. Another he expected would have been foreclosed on in February, although the court documents have yet to be filed.

His biggest debt is owed to taxpayers. Since 2000, the Canada Revenue Agency claims Blackmore has bilked taxpayers out of $4.3-million worth of income tax and GST, both personally and through J.R. Blackmore & Sons Ltd, the holding company that he controls. An appeal date in federal tax court has yet to be set and, until it's decided, interest on the $4.3 million is compounding.

For tax purposes, Blackmore argues that he and his family ought to be treated as a congregation. In his affidavit, he contends that although he and others in the congregation have property listed in their own names, they have all sworn oaths to hold it in trust for the community.

In addition to disputed back taxes, Blackmore claims debts of just under $1.4 million, including $600,000 to GE Capital, $299,000 on a mortgage for one company's buildings and land and more than $200,000 to Arvay, the lawyer who helped get polygamy charges against Blackmore quashed in 2009. To reduce Arvay's bill to $200,000, the affidavit says a Blackmore family member has already mortgaged property outside Bountiful.

There's more. Blackmore says he owes $52,000 on credit cards, $43,000 to his tax lawyer and $37,000 on his pickup truck. But there are no supporting documents.

Somewhat modestly, Blackmore says in the affidavit that he has "a large family ... I have 40 of my own children under the age of 18," adding "I help to support them."

Blackmore doesn't say who the mothers are. On his 2007 and 2008 income tax returns filed in the court, he lists Jennifer Johnson as his common-law spouse. She was one of 19 women named in Blackmore's indictment for polygamy.

His personal income in 2008 was $83,220 and $58,480 in 2007, while Johnson's sole income was $4,500 in government child benefits in 2008 and $3,500 in 2007.

Of course, all 40 Blackmore children under 18 are eligible for child benefits. Assuming that all of the mothers claimed his income -which is unlikely but would probably more than offset the total of what they earned -the family could be getting at least $88,000 a year in child benefits.

Blackmore does admit to collecting tithes of up to $2,000 a month "but mostly I manage labour contributions." There's no indication where the tithes go.

But as government lawyers have pointed out, information is missing from the affidavit and Blackmore has not been questioned about the information.

At best, this is a snapshot of his finances.

Even since the affidavit was filed, both his tax lawyer and Arvay have done work for him.

In addition to representing Blackmore in B.C. Supreme Court last week, Arvay recently filed a civil action claiming Blackmore was wrongfully prosecuted and had his Charter rights violated when he was charged with one count of polygamy in 2009.

Blackmore is seeking an undisclosed sum for legal fees, economic loss, "pain and suffering from mental distress, anxiety and public embarrassment" as well as general, aggravated, punitive and special damages.

The B.C. government's response is that "any damage suffered ... was the result of the plaintiff's own criminal conduct."

Of course, the government has never proved criminal conduct and it is now in court trying to prove that the polygamy law is constitutional.

That's where Blackmore wants to be as well -at the front of the courtroom exerting his influence just like in the old days when he might have been able to pay for it.

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