Bank employee gets two years for thefts

Former Royal Bank of Canada employee Betty Pollard was sentenced last week to two years imprisonment after pleading guilty to stealing sums of money totalling $64,929.64.

The thefts occurred between August 2004 and September 2005.

In passing sentence, Justice Algernon Smith said Pollard is to serve a further six months if she does not pay the money back to the bank within two years.

Facts were presented the previous week by Crown Counsel Kirsty-Ann Gunn.

She said Pollard had worked at the bank since 1999 and was promoted several times.

In March 2004 she became an accounts services representative. This was a front line position, interacting with customers, and her dealing with cash was minimal. Her duties included opening and closing accounts, taking instructions on term deposits and selling bank services.

Mrs. Gunn detailed the various methods by which Pollard stole the money. One method was debiting customers for services they requested and then, instead of crediting the general ledger account held by the bank, she would credit the money to ‘cash’ and collect it.

Another method involved refunds. Pollard had the authority to refund up to $300. For a larger amount, she had to approach her supervisors. She was a trusted employee and they signed off, believing the transaction to be genuine.

A third method related to accounts being closed for non-compliance., predominantly dormant accounts. On many occasions, cash would still be in the accounts, Mrs. Gunn said. When a dormant account was closed, the funds were to be put in a specific general ledger account to be held until the client or estate representative attended the bank and asked for the funds.

Pollard would close an account and credit the money to cash instead of the general ledger account.

The thefts were discovered when the Audit Department noted that the general ledger account was holding less than expected. It also seemed that Pollard had been giving more refunds than expected.

Spoken to by a senior member of staff; she said a large number of refunds was attributable to colleagues who were asking her to do them. Her explanations were initially accepted because the transactions above her limit had been signed by her supervisors.

Then the Audit Office noticed that Pollard was seemingly serving several clients on one internal contract. A contract is a record of the details of a transaction with a client. There could be more than one transaction per contract, but only one client.

Giving her the benefit of the doubt, and believing the error to be because of a lack of training, the office arranged training for the entire department.

When multiple postings continued, Pollard was spoken to and she said they had been done in error. When multiple postings still continued, the Audit Department became suspicious that she was not making errors but was stealing.

Pollard was asked to go home.

The next day she approached a senior officer and said she wanted to talk to her – that some of the transactions she did were not right. She was invited to put her thoughts in writing.

As a result, she was dismissed in September 2005 and arrested in November 2005. When interviewed, she made no admissions. She was charged with theft and false accounting in June 2006.

The bank remains out of pocket, Mrs. Gunn summarised. They have refunded the clients where appropriate; monies taken out of the general ledger account are gone.

One of the bank’s supervisors submitted a further statement, which Mrs. Gunn shared. The supervisor said the thefts had had serious implications for the bank and its reputation. The bank had the embarrassing task of contacting clients to check various details. Some clients became irate and transferred their accounts.

Some records were mixed up, the supervisor continued. In one case, the bank had to inquire if a client had closed his account. To their horror, bank officials were advised that the account holder was deceased when Pollard closed the account.

Pollard’s actions had cost the bank hundreds of hours in checking files, had damaged the staff’s team spirit and created dissension, the supervisor concluded.

Defence Attorney Simon Dickson accepted the offences were extremely serious and imprisonment was inevitable. But, he emphasised, Pollard was not a fraudster: she did not put into effect a dishonest plan that would be extremely difficult to detect.

Indeed, it was absolutely inevitable she would be found out, he said. Every transaction she conducted had her name or unique employee number on it, so it was obvious she was the perpetrator.

Mr. Dickson cited sentencing guidelines which took into account the amount of money stolen. On a sliding scale, he suggested a sentence of 27 months with a one-third discount for the guilty plea resulting in a sentence of 18 months.

He suggested there were no aggravating features in the case – that the factors cited by the bank supervisor were all part of the ‘breach of trust’ aspect of the offences.

On the other hand, there was much mitigation, he said in submitting a report of Pollard’s psychological state: she is suffering from amnesia and cannot remember what happened.

The doctor’s impression was one of subconscious malingering with hysterical features. He did not believe she was making up these symptoms. He said she was emotionally vulnerable and not coping well.

Originally from Trinidad, she was not allowed to travel after her arrest and so was separated from her family there. She became something of a social pariah and her marriage crumbled.

Punishment will continue after prison because her employment prospects will be grim, the attorney submitted.

In passing sentence, Justice Smith said Pollard’s dishonesty had a significant effect on her employer and there were adverse effects internally. He had to balance the interest of the public in general and the victim in particular with the interest of the defendant.

In his view, a guilty plea was a sign of penitence and did not waste time. A sentence of just over two and a half years was appropriate, but considering her guilty plea and lack of previous convictions, two years was appropriate.