Winnipeg funnyman and former breakfast television host Jon Ljungberg will be spending the next six months confined to his house after he was convicted Tuesday of two offences under the Bankruptcy Insolvency Act.
Ljungberg, 57, pleaded guilty to not reporting his income or making payments as required to his bankruptcy trustee after declaring bankruptcy in January 2016.
"He’s taken the cover of bankruptcy and protected himself from creditors… and done nothing he was required to do," said Crown attorney Laura Perron, who, with defence lawyer Ethan Pollock, recommended Ljungberg be sentenced to six months house arrest.
Court heard Ljungberg, who co-hosted Citytv’s Breakfast Television for 11 years until he was let go in 2010, provided the trustee with an initial monthly income estimate in January 2016 that would have required him to submit $573 to the trustee each month. But within two months, Ljungberg was already in arrears and not providing the trustee with his income and expense statements.
By December 2016, Ljungberg stopped reporting his income or making payments altogether, even after a GoFundMe page and a comedy night benefit in March 2017 raised $20,000 for him.
The bankruptcy trustee sought a motion in February 2017 to garnishee Ljungberg’s wages, but by the time it was granted he had quit his job at Riverview Health Centre.
By the time Ljungberg was charged early last year, he had paid the trustee just $950 and owed approximately $20,000.
"For all I know, you could be making $200,000 a year, because you won’t comply." ‐ Judge Ray Wyant
Ljungberg, a veteran comedian who has opened for the likes of Celine Dion and Roseanne Barr, saw his life start to spiral out of control after his wife left him the same day he lost his job at Citytv, Pollock said.
"He hit the bottle," Pollock said.
Ljungberg "did everything he could to stay afloat," Pollock said, including a "humbling" job making balloon bouquets for minimum wage.
In January 2017 he was rushed to the hospital with massive internal bleeding. He was diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver and given three to five years to live.
Ljungberg’s health problems can sometimes leave him confused or "foggy," Pollock said.
"After receiving such a grim diagnosis, some people might throw in the towel, but that’s not Jon Ljungberg," he said.
In 2018 Ljungberg completed a 58-day residential treatment program for alcoholism and "has been sober ever since," Pollock said.
He now makes his living travelling the country as a keynote and motivational speaker.
"I have done everything to get back to where I was and am grateful to still be here, able to teach and be a member of the community," Ljungberg told provincial court Judge Ray Wyant.
But if Ljungberg was expecting Wyant to be swayed by his words, the joke was on him. Missing from Ljungberg’s comments was any mention of repaying what he owed the bankruptcy trustee, said Wyant, describing Ljungberg as "nothing but a con artist."
While mental confusion might have impacted his actions earlier, Ljungberg is clearly healthy enough now to make a living delivering speeches, but has taken no steps to resume payments to the bankruptcy trustee, Wyant said.
"For all I know, you could be making $200,000 a year, because you won’t comply" with requirements to report (his) income, Wyant said. "The only conclusion I can come to is you just don’t want to do it… that you have something to hide."
Wyant in the end agreed to the sentencing recommendation, including an order he complete 50 hours community service work.
Someone once said a journalist is just a reporter in a good suit. Dean Pritchard doesn’t own a good suit. But he knows a good lawsuit.
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Updated on Wednesday, March 11, 2020 at 9:29 AM CDT: Fixes typo