Peter Nygard, accused of sex trafficking, seeks release from Manitoba jail
WINNIPEG -- Peter Nygard appeared in a Winnipeg courtroom from jail by video Tuesday, in a bid for his release from custody while awaiting possible extradition to the United States.
The 79-year-old fashion executive is being held at Headingley Correctional Centre following his arrest in Winnipeg on Dec. 14, 2020, under the Extradition Act.
U.S. authorities charged Nygard on nine counts including racketeering and sex trafficking.
Nygard appeared on a video screen in a large courtroom wearing a medical face mask, with his white hair pulled back from his face. He could be seen taking notes throughout the hearing.
Scott Farlinger, lawyer for the Attorney General of Canada, opposes Nygard’s release. Farlinger has argued Nygard’s a flight risk and has a history of not showing up for court in the Bahamas.
Nygard’s lawyers, Jay Prober and Richard Wolson, are arguing for their client’s release.
“Keeping him in jail in these times of the COVID pandemic is nothing short of a death sentence and amounts to cruel and unusual punishment,” Prober told court Tuesday. “He has no criminal record. He has no charges anywhere else in the world except for the United States and we submit we will be offering a rock-solid bail plan which includes sureties.”
Greg Fenske, one of the proposed sureties, testified at the bail hearing.
While under cross-examination by Farlinger, Fenske told court he has worked since 2008 for the Nygard group of companies as a project manager and director. When the company went into receivership, Fenske testified he continued to help manage receivership and legal issues.
“It keeps me busy full-time,” Fenske told court.
He testified he bills a numbered company for his work and gets paid $2,000 per week. He told court the numbered company has $150,000 in an account and no income. Fenske told court he plans on finding other sources of income before the money runs out.
Farlinger asked Fenske why he continues to do the work.
“Because I believe in Mr. Nygard’s innocence,” Fenske told court.
When asked by Farlinger how he would make sure Nygard follows the conditions of his release, Fenske testified Nygard would live at a home in Royalwood equipped with motion sensors and video surveillance. He testified the home was purchased by the same numbered company in September for nearly $989,800 and is the same home Nygard was arrested at last month. Nygard had been living there for three months, Fenske told court.
“How else would you make sure that Mr. Nygard sticks to his bail conditions?” Farlinger asked Fenske in court.
“Making sure that he’s physically present within the agreed upon limits,” Fenske testified.
Fenske testified he would visit the home once daily to make sure Nygard’s where he’s supposed to be and also check in by phone.
Farlinger told court in a lot of bail situations it’s normal for the accused to live with the surety but Fenske said that’s not possible at his home. He told court it’s because he doesn’t have the space and he doesn’t think his family home is a suitable environment for Nygard given his health and particular needs.
Court also heard from Steve Mager. Mager testified he previously worked as director of construction for Nygard International for $130,000 a year. He’s also one of the proposed sureties should Nygard get bail.
Prior to the Nygard construction job, the court heard Mager pleaded guilty to trafficking cocaine in 2009 and received a five-year sentence eight years ago. Court heard 18 years ago Mager was convicted for possession for the purpose of trafficking and got a 30-month sentence.
Farlinger asked Mager in court if he has any association with drug traffickers or anyone involved in criminal activity and Mager testified he doesn’t.
“How’d you get involved with Mr. Nygard,” Farlinger asked Mager.
“Met him through a poker game,” Mager testified.
Mager told the court he and Nygard are still friends and that he visited him prior to Nygard’s arrest while following precautions to protect against the spread of COVID-19.
Under re-examination by Prober, Mager was asked to comment on Nygard’s appearance now compared to when he last saw him.
“He looks like crap,” Mager testified.
With the cross-examination of the witnesses complete, lawyers for both sides will make final submissions Wednesday when the bail hearing continues.
None of the allegations against Nygard have been tested in court and he is presumed innocent.
Nygard is also the subject of a class-action lawsuit in the U.S. which a judge put on pause. It involves 57 women including 18 Canadians and contains allegations of sexual assault, which Nygard also denies.