MONTREAL — A Montreal billionaire who allegedly paid dozens of minors for sex may try to hide his assets in case he loses a class-action lawsuit, a lawyer for the alleged victims told a Montreal court Friday.

Jeff Orenstein, who is representing the now-adult women in the proposed class-action, said he wants Robert Miller and his company, Future Electronics, to deposit a total of $200 million with the court for safekeeping to ensure his alleged victims are paid. If Miller doesn't do that, the court must freeze all his assets, as well as the assets of a number of companies and individuals tied to him, Orenstein said.

"If after all this goes to trial and the over 50 plaintiffs are successful, and they can never collect because we let a billionaire run off with his money, that would be reprehensive," he told a Quebec Superior Court justice.

The issue is particularly urgent because Miller is in the process of selling the company for $5.2 billion, Orenstein said, adding that he worries the proceeds of the sale will disappear into foreign bank accounts out of the reach of Quebec courts. He said bailiffs who he has sent to serve legal papers to Miller haven't been able to find him and several property transactions allegedly suggest Miller is attempting to hide assets.

But Miller's lawyer, Karim Renno, told the court there's no evidence his client is trying to hide his money. "There is absolutely no justification for this order, this is an embarrassment of monumental proportions and it is an abuse of procedure," he told the court.

Renno argued that the recent property transactions weren't suspicious and that Miller is still living in Quebec. "He's not going anywhere, he's bedridden, can't walk, can't drive, where's he going?"

The court order sought by Orenstein would target people who are not defendants, and is so broad it would prevent Miller from buying a chocolate bar, Renno argued.

On several occasions, Justice Eleni Yiannakis called the two lawyers to order, questioning their claims and telling them their arguments weren't relevant to her questions. Early in Friday's hearing, she scolded Orenstein after he said he was prepared to call three of Miller's alleged victims as surprise witnesses.

While the judge said she's sensitive to allegations of sexual assault and takes them seriously, an asset freeze at this stage is an "extreme remedy."

Orenstein said that since the case was filed, his firm has heard from 50 women who allege they were victims of Miller's sexual misconduct over a 30-year period beginning in the 1970s, including some who were as young as 11 at the time of the alleged crimes. Forty-one alleged victims have given statements outlining their allegations, he said, adding that he expects more women to come forward. 

He said the court should order the asset freeze because Miller knows he'll lose and is preparing to hide his money. "It is very clear we'll be successful at trial," Orenstein told the court. 

Three other women have filed independent lawsuits making similar allegations against Miller.

Miller has denied all the allegations. 

"I would like to remind you, and specifically the attorney who keeps coming to court and saying that this is a slam dunk, that these allegations were conclusively investigated by the police in 2009. Mr. Miller wasn't acquitted, he wasn't even charged," Renno told the court. 

Orenstein said his request that Miller deposit $200 million with the court is based on the amount his clients would be awarded if they win the proposed class action, which seeks $2.5 million in damages on behalf of the first woman to come forward, who says she was 17 when she was paid for sex with Miller. Some women, he said, were younger than 17 at the time of the alleged exploitation; others, he added, were exploited by Miller over a longer period than she was.

Renno said he thinks $200 million is too much. "This $2.5 million claim is absolutely ridiculous," he told the court. "There are seven-year-olds who were repeatedly raped by clergy members that get $150,000 in damages."

Yiannakis said she plans to rule in one week and that she is not considering freezing the sale of Future Electronics.

The case, which was filed in February, must still be authorized by a judge before it can proceed as a class action.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 17, 2023.

Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press

2023-11-17T19:07:49Z dg43tfdfdgfd