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More lawyer issues delay David Murray’s fraud trial again

Ecolife Home Improvement owner says he has lost confidence in his lawyer and the relationship has broken down
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Dave Murray, the owner of Ecolife Home Improvements Inc., is facing 45 counts of fraud. (Matt Durnan / Sudbury.com)

More delays in the fraud trial against Ecolife Home Improvement owner David Murray will see the matter return to court on June 9.

The fraud trial was supposed to resume this week, however, it was learned that Murray’s defence counsel, Antoine-Rene Fabris, submitted an application to be removed as Murray’s counsel. A note to witnesses in the trial stated there has been a “loss of confidence in Mr. Fabris and that the relationship has broken down.”

The application was granted, said the note.

As a result, Murray now has to find new counsel.

“This is beyond ridiculous,” said Chantelle Gorham, in an email to Sudbury.com.

While Gorham was not one of Murray’s alleged fraud victims, she has been instrumental in seeing charges brought against the business owner, and in co-ordinating victims to come together to stage a protest, which she said was the momentum needed for police to finally charge Murray.

“It would appear that they waited until the 11th hour to let the courts know that Murray had lost confidence in his council. It's feeling like the tail is wagging the dog on this one.” 

Murray’s trial began in March 2021. It has now been more than a year, with dozens of witnesses expected to testify before the end. They claim they lost thousands of dollars to Murray for work he never did to their homes.

Murray, 48, faces 35 counts of fraud over $5,000 dating back to May 7, 2016, and running through to March 28, 2019. The total of the alleged frauds is estimated at $800,000.

Crown attorneys Amanda Lalljee and Patrick Travers of the province’s Serious Fraud Office are prosecuting.

Following is a timeline of events leading up to Murray’s trial, and what has happened since:

March 7, 2019 – Protestors gather downtown to raise awareness of their dissatisfaction with Dave Murray and EcoLife Home Improvements.

March 13 – Story about protest and accounts from EcoLife customers is published on Sudbury.com (https://www.sudbury.com/local-news/protesters-say-ecolife-has-scammed-sudburians-out-of-hundreds-of-thousands-of-dollars-1320057 ). Murray's official statement is included in the story, where he points to the cancellation of the GreenON program as the cause of massive pressure on his business, creating a backlog of work. Murray also points to a harsh winter preventing the completion of all but a few installations.

April 10 – After receiving backlash and seeing a dip in business, Murray reaches out to Sudbury.com to go on the record with his side of the story (https://www.sudbury.com/local-news/blame-greenon-not-me-for-unfinished-jobs-embattled-ecolife-owner-says-1376046 ). Murray continues to point to cancellation of GreenON Program as the cause for unfinished work and says he intends to make good on jobs that have not been completed.

April 12 – City revokes David Murray's business licence for EcoLife (Murray to make appeal in May, which is then rescheduled to August)

April 23 – Murray is charged with theft and trafficking stolen property in relation to an incident involving a former EcoLife employee (scheduled for first appearance on May 29).

May 30 – Murray is charged with 20 counts of fraud over $5,000 and three counts of fraud under $5,000 (first appearance is scheduled for July 3).

July 3 - Murray shows up to court indicating he is seeking legal aid (matter is adjourned to July 24)

July 24 – Murray in court, lawyer George Fournier, who is representing Murray on the theft and trafficking stolen property matter is acting as agent. Murray is still seeking legal aid, judge tells Murray to “step on the gas” but is granted an adjournment until Aug. 7

Aug. 7 – Murray in court, George Fournier tells the judge that Dave has been having problems with his accountant, and asks for three weeks to figure things out. Judge adjourns until Aug. 28.

Aug. 14 – Murray has a court date for theft and trafficking matter. His business licence appeal with the city's hearing committee is on the same day. He shows up to neither. Maple Ridge Property Management, a company that was registered to Murray's wife, is brought to the attention of the committee. When asked about Maple Ridge, Murray maintains that the company was started to complete unfinished EcoLife jobs. Maple Ridge was never given a business license by the city. Murray’s appeal is unanimously rejected by the city’s hearing committee.

Aug. 28 – Murray in court for fraud matter, Fournier not in attendance. Duty Counsel explains that Dave is still trying to sort out legal aid and is granted another adjournment to Sept. 25.

Aug. 30 – Story about Maple Ridge Property Managements is published on Sudbury.com (https://www.sudbury.com/local-news/ecolife-owner-tried-to-start-a-new-company-under-a-different-name-1666923 ).

Sept. 25 – Murray back in court for fraud matter, Fournier is not present. Duty counsel is with Dave, who says that he “sent stuff over yesterday” and that “they're backlogged two weeks”. Judge Keast unimpressed but grants adjournment to Oct. 16.

Oct. 31 – Murray is charged with 22 more counts of fraud (14 counts of fraud over $5,000, eight counts of fraud under $5,000), bringing the total number of fraud charges to 45.

Nov. 13 – Murray is back in court, confirms that he has received a legal aid certificate and is given until Dec. 11 to retain counsel, the date when he is scheduled to make his first appearance on the second set of fraud charges.

Dec. 11 – Murray makes a brief court appearance. No defense counsel is present and we learn that Crown attorney Patrick Travers has been brought in from Toronto to handle the matter, as there is a conflict of interest because one of the complainants works at the Sudbury Crown office. Justice John Keast says, “We've got to get this case in the system” and a judicial pre-trial is scheduled for Jan. 7, 2020. Murray is advised by Keast to get to work retaining counsel and bring any efforts made to the JPT on Jan. 7.

2020

Jan. 7 – Judicial pre-trial does not go ahead. Instead, the time is used to date range the 11 counts of fraud under $5,000 and combine them into one charge of fraud over $5,000, meaning that Murray is facing a total of 35 counts of fraud over $5,000. He has not yet retained counsel and is given until Jan. 21.

Jan. 21 – Murray in court, no defense counsel present. He explains that his legal aid has been cancelled and he is appealing the decision. Justice Andrew Buttazoni says that this matter needs to move forward and schedules a JPT for Feb. 6. If Murray has no lawyer at this time the matter will go ahead and Murray will have to represent himself. If Murray has retained counsel an adjournment is possible in order to give the defense some time to get caught up on the matter.

March 10 - It is now more than a year since the initial downtown protest against Murray and EcoLife. Dave is scheduled to have his trial date set for the 35 counts of fraud over $5,000. Instead, the matter is adjourned until March 25. Crown attorney Patrick Travers is frustrated that it has been 10 months since Murray was first charged and still no progress in court. Murray was in court on this day, explaining he has retained Elliot Lake lawyer Antoine-René Fabris to represent him, however, Murray had no paperwork to back that up and Fabris was not present in the courtroom with him.

March 25 - COVID-19 pandemic has gripped the province and all court matters have been suspended for the foreseeable future.

Aug. 5 - Murray is scheduled for a judicial pre-trial. His name is on the docket at the courthouse but the matter is never spoken to. Staff at the courthouse confirms that Murray’s matter has been adjourned to Oct. 14.

Dec. 10 - Ontario Court of Justice orders Murray to pay $3,200 in restitution in relation to charges of theft under $5,000. Murray was charged in 2019 after allegedly driving a trailer full of tools that belonged to a former employee of his and pawning them in North Bay. 

2021

Jan. 27 - A 15-day trial for David Murray is set and will begin on March 8, with the court hearing from nearly 40 witnesses. Trial will run from March 8 - 11, then resume March 22-26, April 1 and May 3, 4 and 6.

March 8 - Trial commences.

Sept. 1 - Trial continues after five months

Nov. 29 - New dates starting in May 2022 are set for trial continuation.

2022

May 17 - As the trial is about to resume, the court learns that David Murray is seeking new counsel after he apparently lost confidence in his lawyer, Antoine-Rene Fabris, of Elliot Lake. The matter was adjourned to June 9.