A 41-year-old woman who stole $157,000 from her mother-in-law’s savings accounts and the Merritt CIBC she worked at as a securities dealer may face up to two years in jail after pleading guilty to criminal fraud.
Hope Moira Donna Thomas faced Judge Raymond Phillips in Kamloops provincial court Thursday where a Crown prosecutor suggested Phillips put Thomas in jail for one to two years followed by a period of probation. Conversely, Thomas’s lawyer suggested two years of house arrest (conditional sentence order) followed by two years of probation, including 250 hours of community service. The proposed house arrest conditions include four free hours per week to perform household duties.
Phillips said he would render a verdict on June 9, after weighing the pros and cons of each proposal, including circumstances that have befallen Thomas since she stole the money.
“If I could take it all back I would,” said Thomas in court.
“I let my life spiral completely out of control …I lost everything,” said Thomas at the sentencing hearing after pleading guilty to one count of fraud over $5,000.
On April 25, the Mutual Fund Dealers Association of Canada (MFDA) permanently banned Thomas from further securities-related employment and fined her $300,000, following a hearing she did not attend.
According to the facts of the MFDA hearing, Thomas opened a tax-free savings account for her mother-in-law in January 2018 and purchased over $56,000 worth of mutual funds.
In 2019, Thomas redeemed $59,000 worth of funds across 12 transactions. She put the money in a new account she opened on behalf of her 79-year-old family member and subsequently used a bank card to withdraw cash from it. She also took out $34,000 from a joint account between her husband and mother-in-law.
She furthered her fraud by obtaining lines of credit and a loan in the mother-in-law’s name to receive $64,000 from the bank, which has refunded the mother-in-law.
Thomas also changed the account statement delivery method, so it would be delivered online and changed the address to her own, which concealed the unauthorized redemptions.
“She has failed to repay or otherwise account for the stolen monies. She retained full financial benefit of her misconduct,” noted an MFDA hearing panel's ruling.
“She stole money from an elderly client who trusted her and also defrauded the Bank by obtaining a loan in the Client’s name …She cannot be trusted with clients’ monies in the future,” added the ruling.
“While she’s pled guilty on the criminal count, it’s bizarre to the Crown as to why she wouldn’t have shown up to these hearings,” noted the prosecutor to Phillips.
The prosecutor said this was a significant amount of money to take from a senior and required complex insider knowledge as a trusted bank employee.
“There was a level of planning required” that is “really quite deceptive,” said the prosecutor, who said jail time must be served to act as a deterrence.
Phillips heard from the mother-in-law via a statement. Now 82, the mother-in-law said the situation caused her stress, leading to hospital visits for heart problems. She said she felt violated and suffered from anxiety from the events.
The highest sentence that could be imposed for such a crime is 14 years in jail, Phillips heard; however, the prosecutor noted Thomas had no criminal record, was at low risk to re-offend, cooperated with bank investigators, pleaded guilty and faced case delays due to the pandemic.
In arguing against jail time, Thomas’s lawyer noted how she had lost her job as a result of her actions, which were a result of difficult personal circumstances she faced.
Thomas, through her lawyer, told of how her marriage had broken apart prior to her actions at the bank and she became addicted to alcohol and cocaine, which fuelled the need for money (the prosecutor noted the money was used for overall lifestyle aspects, including shopping).
Thomas's lawyer argued that putting Thomas behind bars would not benefit her mental and physical recovery or her family, which includes a daughter.
Phillips heard that Thomas is living in Oyama and commutes to work as a hair stylist in Kelowna, following technical training in the field. Thomas is remorseful, has attended various forms of counselling for addictions and is on sleep medication, Phillips heard.
Thomas’s lawyer told the court the scheme "didn’t seem too complex to me.”
"Four years of court supervision is a massive amount of time,” he told the judge.
Furthermore, both sides acknowledged the role of media attention in the case, as publicity in local news outlets led her to move from Merritt.
“There was no way to stay in the community with the shame and humiliation,” said the lawyer, adding Thomas has faced social media messages such as “you should rot in hell and die.”
The prosecutor said media attention is unfortunate for Thomas but is a factor in deterrence, as well as in the public interest.
“Media attention is important for the purpose of the general public to understand these cases are to be taken seriously and such actions cannot be tolerated,” said the prosecutor.
Thomas's lawyer also said a factor for Phillips to consider is the $300,000 fine, although it’s unclear what means Thomas would have to pay it.
MFDA states in its 2021 enforcement report it has a repayment rate of 45 per cent and has increased its collection powers in recent years, in order to increase that rate.