The rabbi of Michael Applebaum pleaded for clemency at the sentencing hearing for the former Montreal mayor on Feb. 15.
In a letter submitted to court, Rabbi Alan Bright of Shaare Zedek Congregation described his congregant as a broken man who has contemplated suicide and urged Judge Louise Provost to show leniency.
In January, Applebaum, who served as interim mayor from November 2012 to June 2013, was found guilty of eight fraud and corruption-related charges. He faces a maximum five-year prison term.
Applebaum, Montreal’s first Jewish mayor, pleaded not guilty to all of the 14 charges originally brought against him.
The crimes, stemming from the extortion of bribes in exchange for favourable municipal decisions sought by developers, were committed earlier, while he was borough mayor of Côte des Neiges-Notre Dame de Grâce.
Crown prosecutor Nathalie Kleber recommended two years in jail, followed by two years of probation. Applebaum’s lawyer Pierre Teasdale wants a suspended sentence or, failing that, a combination of house arrest, community service and weekend prison time of no more than 15 months.
In his eloquent plea, Rabbi Bright wrote that Applebaum, who was arrested in June 2013, has already paid “an exorbitant price for his actions,” one that he will continue to pay for the rest of his life. He said he has seen drastic changes in Applebaum’s personality and health since then and a family that is suffering.
“There were times over the past three years that he stood at the precipice, assured that suicide, the very permanent solution to a temporary problem, was the answer… These were very dark times for his family, and I can assure you your honour that it was not easy to pull him back from that point.”
Rabbi Bright described Applebaum as having deteriorated from being “an upbeat, zestful man, a man for whom no task was too great, a man who was present, day and night… a man who cannot say no to his fellow man regardless of religion, colour, race, rank, fame or fortune.
“Today that same man is a broken man. A man for whom suicide seemed the only relief to his anguish.”
Rabbi Bright said he has known Applebaum, 54, and his family, which includes three children, for more than 10 years and that since his arrest, the relationship has become even deeper and he has been counselling him at least weekly.
Despite the appearance of emotional control, Applebaum, he said, is in pain and despair due to his feeling of having failed his family and others, lost his dignity and been shunned by his community and the public at large.
Rabbi Bright also spoke of Applebaum’s devotion to his widowed elderly mother “who so desperately needs him.”
The many years Applebaum spent in public service are now lost forever, Rabbi Bright argued. “The trust that so many bestowed upon him is impossible to recreate.”
Instead, he said, Applebaum “will be remembered as the mayor of Montreal who was taken in shame from his home on live television,” a reference to his early-morning arrest, which was covered extensively by the media.
He concludes that Applebaum’s “incarceration will serve no useful purpose to a man who is of no threat to anybody, other than perhaps himself, and has paid an exorbitant price for his actions.” The rabbi said he regretted not appearing in person, but was committed to conducting two funerals that day.
The court also heard from Applebaum’s 23-year-old son Dylan, who was close to tears in describing the decline in his father’s physical and mental well-being.
“He seems defeated now,” he said. “Physically, he’s not great. Mentally, he’s not great either.”
He said his father had always been a source of strength and joy for the family, but that has changed.
Applebaum, who was a licensed real estate agent, has been unable to work since his arrest, he said.
A former employer, Salvatore Sansalone, testified that Applebaum had only sold one house since his arrest.
Judge Provost said she will make her decision known on March 30.
Applebaum has not filed an appeal