Magistrate imposes prison term, says amount stolen is just one factor to consider
Former civil servant Lavinia Hume Ebanks was sentenced Thursday to 16 weeks’ immediate imprisonment after being found guilty of false accounting and three thefts totaling $946.
After hearing an application from defense attorney Nicolas Dixey, Magistrate Kirsty-Ann Gunn granted bail pending appeal. Ebanks had been employed as a cashier in the Lands and Survey Department and was later promoted but still worked as cashier on a relief basis. After her conviction in March, she was dismissed.
Ms. Gunn noted that the total stolen between December 2009 and July 2010 was $946. After a department internal investigation, Ebanks was required to pay back $360. Since her conviction, she voluntarily paid back the balance of $586.
Sentencing principles for breach of trust cases call for immediate imprisonment except when the amount of money is small or when there are exceptional circumstances, Mr. Dixey and senior Crown counsel Tania Lobban agreed.
The magistrate explored the idea of a “small amount,” noting that no specific figure has ever been cited as to what is small.
For the victim in this case, $946 would be small compared to the annual revenue of the Lands and Survey Department, she pointed out. But if she considered $946 in general economic terms, the amount was not small, the magistrate said. She noted that for many people it can be a month’s salary or a month’s rent of a child’s school fees for a year.
For that reason, on the question of value alone, she considered that Ebanks’s offending had crossed the custody threshold.
The magistrate said if she were wrong on that point, there were two other aggravating factors – the level of trust that Ebanks had and her position as a public officer.
At the time of her offending, the procedures adopted in the Lands and Survey Department depended heavily on the honesty of the cashiers. Those procedures were vulnerable to abuse, but that did not for one moment excuse Ebanks’s offending.
Further, theft by a public officer has an effect on the public confidence in the way government money is handled, the magistrate indicated.
Co-workers were affected during the internal investigation, which included a search of their desks.
The magistrate found no exceptional circumstances affecting Ebanks. There was no guilty plea and no expression of remorse. Delays in getting the matter to trial had largely resulted from the defendant’s own requests for adjournment. There was no evidence of risk from imminent health issues and any stress experienced was not unexpected, the magistrate said.
Shortly after the sentence of 16 weeks was imposed, Mr. Dixey confirmed that his client wished to appeal, and he applied for bail.
He pointed out that, given the busy calendar of the Grand Court, it was more than likely that Ebanks would have served the sentence before the appeal could be heard. If she then won her appeal, there would be no remedy. If she lost her appeal, she would have to deal with her sentence then.
The magistrate accepted that Ebanks would have served a significant part of her sentence before her appeal could be heard. She said she was satisfied that the Grand Court would grant bail pending appeal on that basis.
She set conditions that included one or two sureties in the sum of $10,000, surrender of passport and a specified residence.