Thursday, February 02, 2012

Founder the now defunct Harmony Airways: Vancouver billionaire pleads guilty to confining prostitute after night of sex

Dr. David Ho, owner of Harmony Airways in Calgary, 15 Sept. 2005.
Larry MacDougal, The Globe and Mail

A Vancouver billionaire who has made headlines for his philanthropy, his failed airline and his questionable activities in the Downtown Eastside has pleaded guilty to unlawfully confining a prostitute at his house after a night of sex and cocaine.

But David Ho, once a member of the Vancouver Police Board, will get only a one-year suspended sentence and a $5,000 fine.

Crown prosecutor Elliot Poll said Mr. Ho, who apologized in court for his actions, is also being asked to attend drug counselling sessions and do 45 hours of community service.

Mr. Poll said that, although the case has received a lot of media attention, “the sentence is based on the circumstances and it seemed to me this was an appropriate disposition.”

The factors that he looked at were Mr. Ho’s decision to plead guilty, rather than going to trial, the nature of the incident, the already extensive media coverage and the fact that he didn’t have a criminal record.

“There’s been a public shaming that’s greater in his case” because of his prominence in both Vancouver and Hong Kong, where the case has been covered exhaustively, Mr. Poll said.

Mr. Ho, 60, has had prior encounters with the police, usually where sex-trade workers were involved, but at least one involving cocaine found in his car. Those did not lead to charges, although they were splashed in the news.

He gave an interview to The Province newspaper two years ago where he said that he has trouble sleeping and roams the Downtown Eastside at night looking for sex-trade workers he can help. Associates claimed he has helped get young women off the streets or paid for their dental work.

But there was no suggestion of that in the incident Mr. Ho pleaded guilty to Thursday.

According to charges laid by the police in 2009, it started when he met a woman on a chat line in 2008 and brought her from Delta to his luxury home in Shaughnessy.

Mr. Poll said they had consensual sex and used drugs.

She decided she wanted to leave around 5 a.m. That led to a nine-minute struggle between the two of them, where she panicked, in part because of her agoraphobia. She hit him several times. Although he didn’t hit her back – another factor in his sentencing – he did try to restrain her.

Mr. Ho’s lawyer, Len Doust, said that although his client wasn’t trying to hold the woman hostage, the judge in the case said he went beyond just trying to defend himself. “He used more force than was reasonable in the circumstances.”

The woman, who is in her 20s, tried to run away and, after Mr. Ho attempted to grab her by some of her clothing, she fell down some stairs and fractured an ankle. She ended up outside in the snow, wearing only panties and screaming for help. A neighbour called 911.

Mr. Doust said his client kept offering to drive her home.

Mr. Ho was considered one of the city’s business assets in the mid-2000s, after he founded Harmony Airlines in 2002 to serve Canada-Asia routes. He was already the owner at that point of Gray Beverage, which bottled Pepsi products. He also owned a luxury car dealership, MCL Motor Cars.

His family had made a fortune in tobacco products in Hong Kong.

In 2003, he set a new record for civic elections when he donated $50,000 to a single candidate in the Vancouver race, a former police officer. In 2005, he was named businessman of the year by the Vancouver Junior Board of Trade. His airline folded in 2007.

Mr. Ho, divorced with three adult children, and his family have been generous donors to various charities, especially Orbis, an international organization dedicated to saving eyesight.

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