Persons in a position of trust who abuse that trust by stealing commit the worst kind of dishonesty. They can expect to be punished by an immediate term of imprisonment.
Chief Justice Anthony Smellie repeated that warning on Monday, when he was sentencing Carol Marie Scott for theft from her employer.
Scott pleaded guilty to stealing $26,492.22 between December 2003 and December 2004.
Defence Attorney John Furniss said Scott was a single mother who took the money because she was struggling to pay her rent, a loan and a helper to care for her children.
The Chief Justice said the fact that one had fallen on hard times and could not pay bills was no excuse for stealing other people’s money. ‘You are obliged by the law and by responsible social behaviour to find an honest way out of your financial problems.’
He told Scott she especially must understand that, since she had committed a similar offence before and had been sent to prison.
He was referring to a 1998 conviction for theft of $16,000 from a previous employer. She was sentenced to serve 18 months, but that was reduced on appeal to nine months, with the other nine suspended. She was also given more time to pay back the money.
In the current case, Scott had no basis for expecting anything but imprisonment and that was what her sentence would be if he were convinced that was the only way to deter her and others from similar offences in the future.
But he had reflected very much about the case over the weekend after hearing the facts and mitigation on Friday. He told Scott, ‘I decided that you should be given another opportunity to find grace with yourself and to repay society – things which I do not believe an immediate sentence of imprisonment would achieve.’
He then imposed a term of two years imprisonment, but suspended it for two years, which means that if Scott re-offends within two years she will go immediately to prison for this offence as well as the sentence for any new offence.
Scott was also directed to give 150 hours of community service on terms that will allow her to work and care for her children. The Chief Justice said he would discuss other conditions, such as behavioural counselling, with her probation officer because it seemed to him that Scott’s pattern of offending suggested that therapy might be helpful to her.
He also directed that the money stolen be repaid. He added interest to round off the figure owed at $30,000. Defence Attorney John Furniss had advised that Scott had put together $5,000 toward that figure.
The Chief Justice said that would be the first payment and the rest would be paid on a monthly basis in an amount to be set. Any single payment missed will result in immediate imprisonment for 30 days.
Crown Counsel Kirsti-Ann Gunn explained how the thefts occurred.
One of Scott’s duties was to receive and process payments from her employer’s clients for work done by the company. A client came in to check on his matter and was told it had been rejected because it was not paid for. His complaint prompted an audit.
It was discovered that cash was not being deposited. It was held back until cheques for similar amounts came in; the cheques were then deposited with no receipts to customers, so there was no accounting track.
The audit trail led to Scott and she admitted taking money to assist with living costs.
Mr. Furniss said his client was remorseful and had been motivated by care for her children. She had taken their father to court and he was supposed to pay $70 per week, but payments were sporadic.
At the beginning of the problem, she had every intention of paying back what she took, but things escalated and she could never catch up, the attorney said.
He submitted reference letters from two previous employers, emphasised the defendant’s remorse and said she was throwing herself on the mercy of the court.
The Chief Justice said he took all these things into consideration and reflected that it cold hardly be in society’s best interest for her to be taken away from two pre-school children, ‘at least not yet, while there are other options open to the court.’
He noted again that Scott had been sent to prison the first and only time she had a conviction for dishonesty recorded against her. ‘Perhaps you would have been better served, and by extension society, by a more remedial form of punishment. That is what I hope to achieve now,’ he told her.
He emphasised that the sentence was intended to meet the particular circumstances of her case. Other people who, out of a sense of sheer dishonesty and greed, commit such offences must expect to be dealt with by the full measure of the law.