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Adman dined on foie gras and champagne in Belize

Filed under: belize,global islands — admin @ 5:00 pm

MONTREAL, SAN PEDRO, BELIZE — Former adman Jean Lafleur enjoyed truffles, imported foie gras, champagne and $100 (U.S.) bottles of wine when living the high life in his Central American tropical idyll.

But Mr. Lafleur will be adjusting to prison food for a while. Yesterday, the executive who grew rich during the federal sponsorship program learned he would be spending at least a week behind bars.

A bail hearing for Mr. Lafleur was delayed to allow his lawyer time to pore over the voluminous evidence against his client. That means Mr. Lafleur, who once boasted friends in high places in Ottawa, will spend Easter and several days after in jail.

Mr. Lafleur, 66, has been in custody since flying in from Belize on Thursday to face 35 counts of fraud involving federal contracts. He sat expressionless in a business shirt and dark sweater draped over his shoulders in a Montreal courtroom yesterday as his lawyer, Jean-Claude Hébert, asked to have the case delayed until next Thursday.At that time, a new date will be set for a bail hearing for Mr. Lafleur, who is charged with defrauding the Canadian government in relation to $1.58-million worth of contracts.

Mr. Lafleur’s harsh conditions and regimented schedule in coming days stand to be in stark contrast to his lifestyle in Belize.

There, during his one-year stay on the island of Ambergris Caye, he enjoyed his foie gras sprinkled with Laurent Perrier champagne from Wine de Vine, a local delicatessen that caters to many Canadian retirees and tourists.

Once a week, the former adman drove a golf cart from his secluded house to the nearby town of San Pedro to peruse the selections, the store’s co-owner, Flor Bradley, told The Globe and Mail.

Each week, Mr. Lafleur loaded his golf cart with two cases filled with about 15 bottles of wine and champagne, sometimes charging $500 in U.S. funds to his credit card, Ms. Bradley said. Most of the wines were French, his favourite being Hermitage Guigal 2002, a red priced at the store at $105. He also enjoyed Chardonnays and Burgundy and Côtes du Rhône wines.

He was a man of “good taste,” Ms. Bradley said.

“He said he came here [to Belize] because it was a place where he could forget all his troubles with his business,” Ms. Bradley said. “He just wanted to relax, to be free of all that.”

He shied away from questions about his business, his travels or his future plans. On the few occasions when he left the island, he told Ms. Bradley he was going back home.

Polite and courteous to townspeople, Mr. Lafleur was rarely seen away from his home, about three kilometres northwest of San Pedro, the only town on the island. Apart from driving to Ms. Bradley’s store, he also frequented some of the upscale restaurants on the island, Ms. Flor said.

Clad in a T-shirt, shorts and sandals, he blended in with the crowds of North American tourists, she said.

But Mr. Lafleur rarely spent time in the sun, although his two-bedroom house was only metres from a secluded beach on the island’s north end. He preferred to drink wine and champagne on the veranda, Ms. Bradley said.

He shared the house with Larry Umana, a Costa Rican in his early 30s, according to Keith Newton, the owner of the house and a neighbour.

Over the past few years Mr. Umana and Mr. Lafleur were seen together at some of the upscale restaurants in San Pedro, as well as shopping at Wine de Vine. During the evenings, they would feast on champagne and foie gras together, Ms. Bradley said.

Mr. Lafleur’s favourite bottle of Laurent Perrier champagne costs $64 at Wine de Vine. Each week, Mr. Lafleur also bought about half a pound of foie gras and a half-pound of truffle mousse. He also purchased about 1½ pounds of Genova salami cut in half-inch-thick slices that he grilled on his barbecue, Ms. Bradley said.

Other Belizeans were surprised to hear that the affable man they knew is accused of defrauding the Canadian government.

“It’s hard to believe,” said Maria Munuz, a waiter at Mickey’s Place, a restaurant where Canadians tourists can enjoy waffles with maple syrup for breakfast.

Mr. Lafleur and Mr. Umana left San Pedro in early January, Mr. Newton said. It is believed that Mr. Lafleur spent the next three months in mainland Belize before returning to Canada this week, six days after an arrest warrant was issued for the fraud charges.

During the time of the federal sponsorship program, Mr. Lafleur, then president of Lafleur Communications Marketing Inc., earned more than $65-million in federal contracts and enjoyed a wheeling-and-dealing lifestyle that involved rubbing shoulders with top federal Liberals.

After he returned on a commercial flight from Belize to surrender to police this week, Crown prosecutor Ann-Mary Beauchemin said she considered Mr. Lafleur a flight risk and ordered him detained because he “doesn’t have a lot of links tying him here to Montreal.”

Mr. Hébert, his defence lawyer, told the court yesterday that Mr. Lafleur had four children in the city.

Back in San Pedro, Ms. Bradley said she misses chatting about wine with Mr. Lafleur, whom she described as a connoisseur before recalling the last time she saw him.

“He told me, ‘Thank you, I have always enjoyed coming in here.’ Then he kissed my hand and left,” Ms. Bradley said with a sigh. “I have never seen him since.”

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