GAS STATION MANAGER SENTENCED TO HOUSE ARREST AFTER STEALING BAND FUNDS
VERNON - The defence counsel for an Enderby man who stole over $270,000 from his employer convinced a Supreme Court Judge the man should serve his sentence in the community — not jail — so he can give back to society.
Donald Jeffrey Thomas, 46, was found guilty of theft over $5,000 for repeatedly stealing cash from the Super Save Gas Station, where he was employed as the manager, over a two-year period from Dec. 1, 2010, to Nov. 19, 2012.
The gas station burned down in 2012, and while Thomas was originally charged with fraud over $5,000 and arson in connection with the fire, those charges were stayed after his week long jury trial in December 2015.
Thomas was back in court today, March 4, for sentencing.
Crown counsel Kevin Marks said one of Thomas’ duties as the manager during that time period was to take money from the cash register and load it into the store’s ATM machine. Over the two-year period, over $272,710 went missing from the ATM and roughly the same amount — around $289,000 — was deposited into Thomas’ multiple bank accounts.
The missing proceeds were discovered when a new board of directors took over and requested an audit. Some of the relevant financial documents were destroyed in the fire, Marks said.
Marks said the theft took a big toll on the community, and created a ‘schism’ among band members. According to one victim impact statement, the incident has ‘divided the community and caused friction’ Marks said.
“(He) makes reference that in his mind Mr. Thomas betrayed the trust in his position as management and betrayed the trust of employees who worked under him and the community as a whole,” Marks said.
Marks said the money was effectively stolen from the community, because proceeds of the gas station are invested in band initiatives.
Marks asked Supreme Court Justice Alison Beames to consider a two-year federal jail term, plus a restitution order of $272,710, for what he described as a deliberate and deceitful crime.
Defence lawyer Juan O’Quinn spoke at length about the complexity of First Nations and the justice system, and the need for courts to consider alternatives to prison sentences. He argued for a conditional sentence order that would place Thomas under house arrest in his community, where he could maintain employment, pay back the money he took, and repair the trust broken, while also showing the community that he’s paying for his actions.
Reference letters filed in court characterize Thomas as a well-respected and trusted member of the band, and O’Quinn argued having him serve his sentence in the community would give him the opportunity to prove himself as someone capable of giving back to society.
“It will allow him to earn back the trust of all those people he disappointed,” O’Quinn said.
O’Quinn said the theft was fuelled by a gambling addiction born out of a childhood rife with abuse.
“He was coming to grips with the suffering of his childhood,”O’Quinn said. “This was his way of coping with it.”
Asked by Justice Beames if he had anything to say for himself, Thomas replied, “The only thing I would like to say is I am truly sorry for what my community has gone through.”
Beames accepted the sentenced proposed by the defence, and ordered a two-year conditional sentence order served in the community. Thomas will serve the first year on full house arrest, followed by 12 months on curfew with strict conditions, plus an additional three years on probation. He will be able to travel to a camp job in order to make up the $272,710 Beames ordered him to pay back in restitution to Quilakwa Investments Limited, operated by the Splatsin. He is also required to complete a total of 300 hours of community service.
“You have done a lot which is to your credit,” Beames told Thomas. “By imposing this conditional sentence order, I am obviously putting some faith in you that you’re going to be able to continue to do things to your credit and the credit of your community to make right the wrongs that you have committed.”
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— This story was updated at 3:50 p.m., Friday, March 4, 2016, to include Justice Alison Beames' decision.