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Accounting fraud: Everyone’s doin’ it

Both Craib and Messina told investigators that Eckstein got them to go along with the alleged manipulations of Livent’s books by explaining that it was common practice among other public companies. In both cases, Eckstein allegedly told the accountants that the same type of manipulations were used in the late 1980s at Loblaws when Eckstein was director of retail accounting at National Groccers Co. Ltd, a Loblaws subsidiary.

Messina told RCMP investigators that she was shocked, and confronted Eckstein when she saw that Livent accountants had transformed a $20 million loss into a $5.6 million profit. “And he made very light of it and he started to laugh,” according to the RCMP transcript Edward Greenspan showed the court. “He said, Maria, everybody does this … It’s nothing. We used to do it at Loblaws… Everyone plays around with the quarters, smooth income a little bit. It’s nothing,”

But on the stand, Eckstein said he never witnessed any illegal accounting at Loblaws, only that he considered the grocery company’s treatment of some accounting items as “aggressive.” And as for the conversation with Messina, he merely made up the references to Loblaws and others engaging in the same practices. “I was just trying to calm her down, to placate her,” he told the court.

Tony Fiorino, Livent’s former theatre controller, had another name for Eckstein: Teflon man. Fiorino told investigators that nothing stuck to Eckstein. He would blame underlings for mistakes in the company’s books and blame senior managers for the fraud that was occurring at the company. “Nothing that happened at this company was your fault,” Edward Greenspan told Eckstein. “That’s not what I said,” Eckstein shot back. “It was clear to everyone that the manipulation was coming down from Mr. Drabinsky, Mr. Gottlieb and Topol… It was my fault for following that.”