Bank employees get house arrest

Three former bank employees are spending the next six months under house arrest, with time out allowed for work, as part of the sentence they received for breach of trust offences.

Chenara Ebanks, Kerri Bennett and Annika Ebanks were sentenced last Friday after pleading guilty to theft and other dishonest acts. The total amount stolen, from December 2005 to March 2006, was $11,652.19.

Annika, 22, and Kerri, 19, worked at Royal Bank of Canada, Shedden Road branch. Chenara, 21, worked at Scotia Bank.

Crown Counsel Kirsty-Ann Gunn told Justice Alex Henderson that the various offences related to six incidents.

The first occurred on 30 December 2005, when a Kerri and Annika used another employee’s cash dispenser unit card to gain access to a machine that holds cash. They withdrew $500.

When the other employee was questioned about the withdrawal, she had no explanation and the voucher issued with the transaction was nowhere to be found.

The second incident occurred some four days later, on 3 January. Kerri and Annika again used the other employee’s cash dispenser unit card and withdrew $300. Again the employee could not explain what had happened nor was there any voucher to show the transaction.

The person or persons involved in the first two incidents had not been identified when, five days later, the bank discovered there was a withdrawal of $2,000 using Annika’s card. Annika denied any knowledge. She said she had left her card unattended and someone might have used it.

Later, when interviewed, Kerri and Annika admitted using the other employee’s card twice, with one person using the card and the other serving as look-out. Annika also admitted using her own card to take $2,000, giving Kerri $500.

On 19 January, before any admissions were made, Annika was terminated by the bank for an unrelated matter. But, Mrs. Gunn said, she continued to target the bank through another fraudulent system.

Sometime between 31 January and 1 March, a cheque for US$2,000 was mailed to Scotiabank where Chenara worked. She was said to have stolen the cheque, slipping it into an envelope.

She then called her colleague Annika and together they went to Royal Bank, where Kerri was working as a teller. They got in line and allowed other customers to go ahead of them so that they could be served by Kerri.

Annika presented the cheque and did the physical crossing out to change the payee. Kerri dispensed the money and Chenara received it. Annika and Chenara left the bank together.

The fifth incident involved a cheque for $2,366.77, stolen by Chenara and altered. Annika signed the name and Chenara wrote in a false drivers licence number and Kerri cashed the cheque.

The final incident involved a cheque for $4,358.82 sent to Scotiabank and intercepted by Chenara. Again she and Annika took it to Royal Bank where they were served by Kerri, who cashed it.

Mrs. Gunn said the offences formed a planned and carefully executed fraud on the bank rather than an opportunistic one-off.

Along with theft, charges included forgery, uttering and false accounting. Not all defendants pleaded guilty to all charges.

Both the Crown and Defence Attorneys referred to a recent ruling in the Court of Appeal, when it affirmed sentencing guidelines for breach of trust cases. The court said the appropriate sentence is one of immediate imprisonment even for a first offence unless exceptional circumstances are shown.

In light of Cayman’s economy, the sentence imposed should be one that will act as an effective deterrent, the Court of Appeal added.

Factors that are not exceptional circumstances include youth, good character, early guilty plea, having children or being in debt.

Attorney Nicholas Dixey spoke for Kerri, saying she allowed herself to be persuaded and something that started as a small act of dishonesty grew and grew. The total benefit she received was $1,700. Kerri had found employment and paid back that amount.

Mr. Dixey agreed that the Court of Appeal upheld sentencing guidelines for breach of trust. But those same guidelines say that the court need not impose custody when there are exceptional circumstances or when the amount of money is small.

In breach of trust cases, $1,700 was small, Mr. Dixey said. In this case, custody was not inevitable because of the amount.

Attorney John Furniss spoke for Chenara. He said she was unemployed but seeking work so that she could make compensation. She had learned a valuable lesson and wanted to start over.

Attorney Menelik Miller spoke for Annika, who admitted benefiting by $3,800. Of course, in a joint enterprise, everyone is responsible, he said.

Annika was suffering from stress at the time of the offences, Mr. Miller told the court. She was responsible for training other tellers and did not feel she was getting adequate support.

There was some question as to who was pressuring whom to commit these offences. ‘They all fed off each other,’ Mr. Miller said.

Justice Henderson agreed that the total amount of money stolen was not large and there was some debate as to how much each defendant received.

He said it was worth repeating that in most cases where theft is committed by someone in a position of trust a term of imprisonment will be imposed. It was also true that the financial welfare of this country depends on the banking industry, so there was strong incentive to ensure the honesty of employees.

Those two principles could justify imprisonment, the judge said, but he was persuaded this case was an exception because of the small amount involved and the defendants’ young ages.

He said their social inquiry reports indicated they had suffered a certain amount of remorse and concluded that they had made a grave error. He called their thefts not particularly sophisticated.

The judge assumed each was equally liable and ordered each to pay $4,000 in monthly instalments.

House arrest is in effect from 6pm to 6am, during which time each defendant is to remain inside her residence. These hours will enable them to work during the day.

In addition, the three were placed on probation for one year and ordered to perform 200 hours of community service, which they could do after the six months of house arrest.

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