No jail time for Vernon grandmother guilty of defrauding charity | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Vernon News

No jail time for Vernon grandmother guilty of defrauding charity

File photo.

North Okanagan resident Jennifer Louis had 17 cents in her bank account when she fraudulently changed names on her employer's cheques and deposited them into her own bank account.

The 56-year-old grandmother fraudulently altered cheques from the charity she worked for depositing $21,906 into her account.

She then used the vast majority of the money to pay her bills.

At the Vernon courthouse yesterday, Feb. 22, she avoided going to prison.

"I'd like to provide my sincere apologies... and to the board and the staff and the residents," Louis told the court. "I deeply regret my actions, I did not only impact the organization but many of the residents, who were also very kind to me."

Louis had been the building manager for the not-for-profit housing organization, the Vernon and District Community Land Trust Society, when in October 2019 she changed the name on a cheque that was supposed to pay a contractor.

Over the course of the next three months, she forged 15 cheques netting her almost $22,000.

Along with bills, she spent some of the money on online gambling.

She was easily caught when a contractor complained they hadn't been paid.

Louis was fired and the police were called.

Crown prosecutor Brock Bellrichard told the court she showed sincere remorse in the statement she gave to police following her arrest.

She later pleaded guilty before the case went to trial.

The court heard how the 56-year-old was in dire financial circumstances when she committed the fraud.

"She made a very bad decision, she's taken money from the First Nation's trust... it's her fault and her fault alone and she realizes there must be a penalty," Louis' lawyer Glenn Verdurmen told the court.

The housing charity, which has since changed its name to the Okanagan Village Housing Society, managed to claw back some of the money, and insurance covered $10,000.

Louis is now left to pay the Housing Society $7,888 in restitution plus $10,000 to the insurance company to cover its loss.

"She makes no excuse for her conduct," Verdurmen said. "It will be no mean feat to pay back the money."

Court heard how Louis was currently unemployed and had her home destroyed in the wildfires of 2021.

The court heard how Louis had no criminal record and had worked all her life, often for various Indigenous organizations, including the Okanagan Indian Band, of which she is a member. Louis had been raised in the shadow of the residential school system, which her father had attended. Alcoholism had been rife in her community, along with abuse.

In spite of all of this, she had always worked and attended Mount Royal University.

"It is by all accounts a very unfortunate set of circumstances," Justice Betton told the court. "Unfortunate, because somebody despite her challenges and whats she's been exposed to, Ms. Louis has, but from this event, been a productive and positive influence within her community and within her family."

The Justice she'd had abused her position of trust and taken money from the very people that need it most.

"She comes from a difficult upbringing, rises above that for the most part, but when circumstances were dire for her she chose to use what she had worked so hard to gain in her life which was solid employment and the trust of individuals around her," Justice Betton said.

The Justice sentenced Louis to 12 months house arrest whereby she's required to be home between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. every day, along with a multitude of other conditions.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Ben Bulmer or call (250) 309-5230 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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