Home builder DeSantis guilty of driving high
Prominent home builder Peter DeSantis spent his 78th birthday pleading guilty to driving while high on cocaine.
The founder of Homes by DeSantis lost his driver’s licence for a year and was sentenced Friday to a $1,500 fine plus a victim surcharge of $450 by Ontario Court Justice Marjoh Agro for using a pop can to consume crack while driving.
But his lawyer Jeffrey Manishen said, “the shame and embarrassment” of the public court case “after years of such a good reputation is more of a sanction.”
DeSantis does not have a previous criminal record and Manishen told the court the charges “would come as a shock to people” because of the “high level of regard” his client has in Hamilton.
Manishen went on to say DeSantis plans to “return to being a responsible member of the community.”
However, he is leaving the company he started when he built his first house in 1959. Manishen told the court his client’s relapse 10 months ago after previously recovering from drug addiction has prompted “lifestyle changes” including giving up the stress of the family business.
“He’s transferring the entire responsibility of the business to his sons,” said Manishen. “He’s no longer involved in the company.”
DeSantis has three adult children. His son, Gabriel DeSantis, is currently president of the awardwinning Stoney Creek business.
At the same time DeSantis pleaded guilty to impaired driving, a charge related to possession of cocaine was dropped partly because DeSantis has a home in Florida as well as Stoney Creek and a drug conviction would make it difficult for him to cross the border into the United States.
“It’s a very significant step for the Crown to take,” said Manishen while expressing his appreciation to the court.
DeSantis said, “No” when asked by Agro if he had anything to say prior to his sentencing. He also declined to comment to The Spectator.
His wife, Mary DeSantis, was in court Friday to support him.
It is not the first time his drug addiction has become public. His son, Peter DeSantis Jr., pleaded guilty to dangerous driving in June 2012 and was fined $1,000 in a car-ramming incident that defence counsel Dean Paquette said at the time was intended to prevent his father from buying drugs.
Paquette told court in 2012 that the family patriarch’s 20-year addiction had caused enormous strife in the family and worsened in the five years before the Sept. 9, 2011, incident.
DeSantis went to rehabilitation in the United States, said Manishen in court Friday. He didn’t say when the treatment was sought but declared “it seemed to be working well.”
It was after DeSantis encountered an acquaintance who gave him drugs that he relapsed on August 24, 2016.
At around 11 p.m. that night, a citizen called police about a car being driven erratically in Stoney Creek. The citizen was following the car and waved to point it out to Hamilton Police when they arrived.
DeSantis was pulled over at about 11:23 p.m. on Green Mountain Road East near 8th Road East.
“The officers noticed he had trouble leaving the vehicle,” Crown attorney Steve O’Brien told the court. “He had to use the door frame to pull himself up.”
O’Brien described DeSantis as “unsteady” and his speech was “incoherent and confused.”
The officers could not detect alcohol and DeSantis told them he had diabetes so they called an ambulance.
After examining him, paramedics told police that DeSantis was not suffering from a medical issue. They pointed the officers to a “pop can” in the car that “had holes” and was “still hot to the touch,” said O’Brien. They could see drug residue on the can.
The implication was that he was smoking crack cocaine, said O’Brien.
DeSantis was taken to a Halton Regional Police station because it had the closest available drug recognition officer on duty. The officer concluded he was impaired by a central nervous system stimulant.
A urine sample confirmed the presence of cocaine and two other substances associated with cocaine.
Agro said “thankfully a member of the public noticed” the erratic driving and called police before there was “any serious injury to yourself or other users of the road.”
The fact it was “clear” he was consuming crack while driving was an aggravating factor, she said.
She called DeSantis “well-respected and certainly well known,”
“It’s unfortunate your inability to handle some of the stressors that life threw at you led to your drug use,” she said. .
Manishen told the court DeSantis has gone to about one dozen sessions at the Oakville Centre for Cognitive Therapy since the relapse. He also has a variety of health problems.
“I urge you to continue with therapy and the changes in lifestyle you’re making,” said Agro.