Michelle Bouchard was sentenced to 12 years in prison Thursday after a Grand Court jury found her guilty of 25 out of 26 charges of dishonesty.
In passing concurrent and consecutive sentences, Justice Paul Worsley told the defendant, “Prison is an experience that will be far from easy for someone like you, who has enjoyed the high life.”
He said he would adjourn hearings on restitution and confiscation, emphasizing that Bouchard should not benefit in any way from her dishonesty.
Fourteen of the guilty verdicts pertained to charges of theft totalling CI$1,583,749.77 and US$829,855.17 between May 2010 and October 2012.
It was during that period that Bouchard lived in a Seven Mile Beach condo with James Bruce Handford, a retired Australian businessman. It is from Mr. Handford that the money was stolen through joint accounts he opened in both their names.
The one not guilty verdict was on a charge of stealing a total of CI$184,869.01 by ordering bank drafts to pay to her credit card accounts in Canada between May 2010 and August 2012.
Mr. Handford in his statement to police in October, 2012, had said he would not complain about the credit card payments and transfers of “small amounts.”
The jury of four men and three women also found Bouchard guilty of one count of forgery, signing Mr. Handford’s name to a credit card authorization form on June 13, 2012; obtaining a four-carat diamond ring from Kirk Freeport on June 13, 2012, by the deception that she had authority to use funds from a credit card in Mr. Handford’s name.
They also found her guilty of transferring criminal property – stolen money – three times between Sept. 27 and Oct. 4, 2012. The amounts were US$350,000, Canadian $350,000 and CI$310,000.
She was also found guilty of attempting to transfer criminal property six times on Oct. 10, 2012.
These last nine offenses occurred after Mr. Handford’s daughter, Susan van Dijk, came to Cayman and visited her father’s bank with him.
The verdicts were read out just after noon and attorneys then discussed the aggravating and mitigating factors they were asking the judge to consider. Lead prosecutor Simon Russell-Flint noted that the maximum sentence for theft is 10 years, the maximum for forgery is three years, and the maximum for transfer of criminal property is 14 years.
Defense counsel Peter Carter asked the judge to consider the principle of totality rather than separate sentences for each offense. He pointed out that Bouchard, now 55, had destroyed her professional reputation as an interior designer along with her good name.
He mentioned the journals Bouchard had kept – copies of which had been given to jurors, with numerous selections highlighted. He said he suspected they indicated “a degree of self-obsession.”
Mr. Carter said attorneys in this case had sympathy for Mr. Handford, 88, who is now in a secure care facility in Australia, on a dementia ward. He suggested there were two things that softened the blow for Mr. Handford. One, the money stolen was not his total fortune; and two, Mr. Handford had not been present to witness the proceedings against someone he had cared about.
This was not a case in which victims lose life savings, he pointed out, and Bouchard’s administrative assistance to Mr. Handford started out as a legitimate working relationship.
Justice Worsley expressed concern when the Crown advised that, in early 2014, Bouchard had released Canadian $1.4 million in a Canadian bank to her father, with the money being put in another account in his name.
The judge said he needed to know more about that, noting that Bouchard’s father had been dead for a number of years.
Bouchard showed little reaction as the judge delivered his sentence.
Justice Worsley arrived at a 12-year total by starting with concurrent sentences of three years on one theft charge; one year each on 10 theft charges; and seven years on three theft charges of larger amounts.
A one-year sentence for forgery was made consecutive.
The sentence for three charges of transfer of criminal property was four years each, with three years each for attempts. These sentences were made concurrent with each other but consecutive to the previous sentences.
The transfers and attempted transfers of criminal property were money laundering offenses, of which the court took a very serious view, Justice Worsley said. Bouchard had transferred substantial funds out of the jurisdiction, hoping to conceal them, he said. “The impact on public confidence in its financial services sector, which is the lifeblood of this community, cannot be understated.”