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That time Philip Seymour Hoffman was a Toronto crook

Posted by Chris Bateman / February 3, 2014

philip seymour hoffmanAcademy award winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman played several real-life characters on the big screen: Truman Capote, Lester Bangs, Oakland Athletics coach Art Howe, and even a wayward CIBC clerk from Toronto.

Hoffman, who died yesterday of an apparent drug over dose, according to a preliminary police report, played Bay Street bank banker Dan Mahowny, a character based on real-life embezzler Brian Molony, in the 2003 movie Owning Mahowny.

Molony was a mild-mannered Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce clerk with a voracious gambling habit. As part of his job, the chubby 26-year-old with distinctive thick-framed glasses was authorized to approve loans of up to $35,000, which he routinely issued to himself under fictitious names.

Using proceeds from some 93 fraudulent transactions, Molony would leave his Bay and Richmond office in a limousine, travel by private jet to Atlantic City, and routinely lose thousands at craps, baccarat, "almost anything" at the Caesar's Boardwalk Regency Hotel-Casino, one the largest gaming halls on the east coast.

On one disastrous trip Molony dropped $1.2 million of CIBC cash in a single night.

toronto brian molonyAnd he probably would have gotten away with it too if it wasn't for an ill-timed speeding ticket he received returning home from Toronto International Airport in 1982. The cops became suspicious when $30,000 in U.S. funds emerged from a search of Molony's car, a sum that was more than the clerk's annual salary.

$7,000 more was found stashed at the one-bedroom High Park Ave. apartment he shared with his girlfriend, and the scheme quickly unraveled.

In total, Molony embezzled more than $10 million, a crime which netted him six years in prison. Despite his high-profile downfall, he went on to marry his then-girlfriend, quit gambling, and return to work in the financial sector.

The fraud was one of the largest in Canadian banking history and formed the basis of Stung, a 1987 best-selling book by journalist Gary Ross. In 2003, Philip Seymour Hoffman was cast as a character based on Molony. The movie adaptation was one of film critic Roger Ebert's top ten films of the year.

Chris Bateman is a staff writer at blogTO. Follow him on Twitter at @chrisbateman.

Discussion

2 Comments

Spike / February 3, 2014 at 01:24 am
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I can't believe that he's gone...he was such a great actor, especially in The Master. This man REALLY knew his craft.

Rest easy, Phil.
Al / February 3, 2014 at 09:04 am
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There's a brilliant scene in that film where Mahowny wins back enough to pay off everything he owes if he just walks away from the table, but he can't help himself. Hoffman is virtually wordless in the scene, but his face shows the grip his gambling addiction has on him. It's one of his best performances.

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