The former boss of Sutton Quebec regains his freedom while awaiting trial for a series of arsons at competitors. But to get out of prison, he must make almost unprecedented financial commitments totaling $400,000.
Handcuffed and in the dock in the morning at the Saint-Jérôme courthouse, José Christophe Folla walked out free on Tuesday. However, he had to agree to post $200,000 as security.
The businessman also owes his immediate freedom to the “women in his life”. His partner of 30 years, Julie Gaucher, who became president of Sutton Quebec, stands surety for an additional $100,000.
Folla’s common-law wife, Céline Levac, also provides bail of the same amount. Judge Gilles Garneau therefore requires a total of $400,000 in deposit and sureties.
“I don’t remember cases where such astronomical amounts were requested for releases,” says criminal law veteran Jean-Claude Hébert.
In 2013, his client Pamela Porter had to pay $250,000 to get out of prison. However, the judge did not impose additional bail on him. She was prosecuted for having recycled money from the crimes of her husband Arthur Porter, as part of the corruption scandal between SNC-Lavalin and the McGill University Health Center.
Cardiologist Guy Turcotte, who killed his two children in 2009, obtained his provisional release in 2014 against a $100,000 bond from his brother, guaranteed by a mortgage, but without a deposit of money.
A publication ban prevents the media from reporting the judge’s reasons, as well as the details of the police investigation exposed at this stage, as is usually the case during bail hearings.
To understand the heaviness of the bails he demands from Folla, “you have to put yourself in the judge’s place,” says Jean-Claude Hébert. “Does he consider that the evidence is very strong and that he risks receiving a fairly heavy sentence? » he mentions.
It must also minimize the risk of escape. Folla also had to surrender his two passports, Canadian and Spanish, and undertake not to leave Quebec.
“The judge is walking on a tightrope,” said Jean-Claude Hébert. He asks himself: “What do I have that I won’t be told I let it slip away if things go wrong?” He must be able to say that he made a reasonable decision. »
The criminal lawyer adds that judges have become concerned about public confidence in justice. “Will the financial commitments reassure the public, or will it annoy them? »
One thing is certain, Folla has considerable means to pay the price of his temporary freedom. The Sutton Quebec franchise, which he owns with Julie Gaucher, boasts some 1,500 brokers, who send him commissions on 22,000 transactions per year.
In addition, Folla owns a veritable small real estate empire, including the Golf Balmoral in Morin-Heights and a share of the EVO Montréal residences, housed in the former tower of the Delta hotel in the city center, valued at 77 million.
Heavy potential penalty
The 70-year-old businessman must now enjoy his freedom, since he faces a big risk: 14 years in prison. He is accused of ordering a series of arsons between 2017 and 2022, then plotting to commit others, until the last days of late January.
Through his spokesperson, his partner Julie Gaucher said she was “relieved” after his release. “We will let the judicial system do its work and Mr. Folla will stand trial,” said Patricia Lemoine Smith. She will focus on the continued growth of Sutton Quebec. »
The prosecutor in the case, Caroline Buist, says she “welcomes the decision” and must “evaluate” the possibility of appealing Folla’s release.
His co-defendants, Benjamin Amar and Alain Marc Nahmias, were also released on Monday.
The buildings they allegedly burned belonged to competitors of Sutton Quebec: the Léger family and Christian Bouvrette, owners of Royal LePage Humania.
They were associated with Sutton Quebec until 2017, when they decided to change franchises. A few months later, the arson attacks began.
One of the burned buildings, rue Principale in Saint-Sauveur, housed another franchise, Remax Bonjour. The building was a stone’s throw from Royal LePage Humania and according to our information, the victims and the police believe that the arsonists had the wrong address when setting it on fire in February 2021.
Folla and his co-defendants are due back in court on March 8.