A woman who stole money from two different employers received sentences on Tuesday that included an 18-hour curfew, the wearing of an electronic monitor and a suspended term of imprisonment, but no immediate custody.
Isabella Renee Garcia, also known as Ruth Ann McLaughlin, was sentenced by Magistrate Valdis Foldats, who accepted defence attorney John Furniss’s submissions that there were exceptional circumstances in his client’s case.
McLaughlin went to trial on two counts of theft from a real estate company, where she served as office manager between October 2010 and May 2011.
The total stolen was $17,450. Some was cash, which agents gave her for deposit in the company’s bank account but that she kept for herself; some was in the form of cheques her employer pre-signed for company expenses and which she made out to herself.
Trial took place in 2016 and 2017. On the very last day, she pleaded guilty.
Meanwhile, having changed her name legally to Isabella Garcia, she started working for the Tourism Attraction Board in January 2014.
One of her duties was to collect rent from shops at Hell in West Bay. She did not deposit the money as she should have. She kept $3,450.
Later in 2014, she applied for a job through a local recruitment agency. She supplied a work record stating she had been employed with a construction company from 2009–2013. She was hired on the strength of a telephone interview with someone at that company.
About two months later, the victim company was made aware of her true background. Garcia accepted the fraud and pleaded guilty to one count of obtaining a pecuniary advantage by deception – wages in the sum of $3,166.
The magistrate listed the numerous aggravating features of the offending.
As office manager, she had caused financial harm and emotional distress to her employer and co-workers.
Victims “are not a faceless corporation”, the magistrate pointed out. “These are workmates or bosses that are seen on a daily basis, that sit beside you in the office. Stealing from your company also harms your colleagues. I say this to give pause to anyone contemplating theft in the workplace – look at the person beside you: that is who you would be harming as well.”
He noted that McLaughlin obtained personal loans from her employer, which she did not pay back. The owner said he now had a different outlook on giving personal loans to staff who might genuinely need assistance.
The magistrate noted also that at least one offence was committed while the defendant was on bail for an earlier offence. That was an aggravating factor. Looking at the total offences, he would have imposed a prison term of 18 months.
Furniss urged the court to say that the passage of time since the first offences should allow for a non-custodial sentence. The magistrate said trial was to have started in December 2014, but was adjourned on numerous occasions due to the defendant’s purported medical issues.
“There were at least 26 medical excusals noted provided by 12 different physicians,” he pointed out. “Simply voicing these numbers raises concerns about the veracity of the defendant’s excuses; I remain sceptical,” the magistrate said.
“Nevertheless,” he added, “the prosecution are not in a position to gainsay the medical notes and I must therefore take them at face value”.
Mr. Furniss also argued that Garcia’s youngest child provided an exceptional circumstance and he filed documentation as to the child’s medical issues. The magistrate said, “I accept that the child requires professional in-home nursing assistance and the defendant accompanies the child overseas for medical examinations.”
He quoted a Court of Appeal ruling which said, “It has long been recognised that the plight of children, particularly very young children, and the impact on them if the person best able to care for them … is a major feature for consideration in any sentencing decision.”
The child is an infant, the magistrate said. “Separation from the mother, if she were imprisoned, would obviously come at a critical and sensitive time, disrupting the maternal bond …. The court’s focus is on the well-being of the child, not the defendant.”
He said the sentence he imposed was only slightly less onerous than immediate imprisonment. It therefore preserved the court’s message that a stern sentence is necessary to deter employee theft.
For the real estate company thefts, McLaughlin/Garcia received a 13-month prison sentence, suspended for two years.
For the TAB thefts, she was placed on curfew for five months with electronic monitoring. Her liberty is restricted as if she were in prison, but she will be allowed to find employment and attend to her child’s medical needs.
The island will not be burdened with the cost of her imprisonment and she will have no free weekends, no evening excursions, no remission.
The curfew is 24 hours except for non-holiday weekdays between 7am and 1pm. It is subject to medical emergencies and she may apply to travel with her child. She can apply for curfew variation if she gets a job.
For the false work record fraud, the sentence was two months imprisonment suspended for two years and a community service order for 120 hours.