A former ICBC insurance adjuster who defrauded the Crown corporation of over $420,000 to pay for a gambling addiction has been sentenced to two years in jail.
Paul Martin Punter, 31, was handed the sentence in North Vancouver provincial court Dec. 23 after pleading guilty to a charge of theft over $5,000.
According to an agreed statement of facts read by Crown counsel Peter Campbell, Punter was hired by ICBC as a claims adjuster in January 2017.
Over two years between Aug. 14, 2017 and July 28, 2019, Punter fraudulently issued 156 cheques on active claims to reimburse expenses that did not exist, said Campbell.
Using a cellphone app, Punter then deposited those cheques into his own TD Canada Trust bank account.
When Punter applied for a mortgage with TD in August 2019, a bank employee noticed numerous third-party cheques had been deposited digitally into his account, said Campbell.
When questioned, Punter said they were reimbursements from his employer for legitimate business expenses and that he hadn’t paid attention to not being the payee named on the cheques.
But that explanation seemed “implausible,” said Campbell, and TD put a hold on Punter’s accounts and began an investigation. The bank also notified ICBC.
The insurance company discovered codes for the cheques indicated they had all been printed on Punter’s office printer and had been issued under his adjuster number.
Bank records also showed numerous purchases through playnow.com, which is the sports betting site owned by the British Columbia Lottery Corp., said Campbell.
Transaction amounts ranged from $100 to $2,000. In August 2018 alone, according to the statement of facts, Punter spent $52,570 on playnow.com.
Adjuster placed bets of up to $2K on playnow.com
Money stolen from his employer all went to fund Punter’s gambling addiction, rather than an extravagant lifestyle, according to information read in court.
RCMP arrested both Punter and his wife at their Richmond home on Oct. 1, 2019.
Both provided statements and Punter made a full confession.
Punter’s wife didn’t know about his gambling addiction until after he’d been arrested, said Campbell. Punter had told her he’d been laid off from ICBC and that their bank account had been frozen because of a compromised credit card.
TD recovered about $55,000 of its loss through money that Punter and his wife had on deposit in a joint account. The rest of the money hasn’t been recovered, said Campbell.
Punter grew up in England and became a permanent resident of Canada when he married his wife in 2018, said his lawyer Harkirat Khosa.
As a child, Punter’s family struggled with poverty. Punter’s father managed a betting shop and had significant gambling problems, said Khosa, adding Punter often spent time betting with his father on sports.
According to a report submitted by a counsellor, “It is clear that Mr. Punter suffered from a severe gambling addiction,” said Khosa.
She added Punter will likely face the additional consequence of being deported from the country after he serves his sentence.
In a tearful statement to the court, Punter apologized for his actions, saying, “I couldn’t be more disappointed in myself. ... There are no words to describe how terrible I feel.”
Gambling addiction took over his life
Punter described how the gambling addiction took over his life:
“I needed to bet as soon as I woke up. And until I went to bed, I made my day around when, where and how I could bet,” he said. Some days he even snuck off to the bathroom just so he could place a bet, he said, adding now, “It is truly amazing to me to look back and see how this addiction caused the line between right and wrong to become so blurred.”
In addition to the jail term, Judge Patricia Janzen ordered Punter to pay back $8,700 owing to ICBC and $356,000 owing to TD Canada Trust, with 20 years to pay it.
In making the restitution order, the judge rejected a request by the Crown to require payment in a shorter period of time, saying the victims in this case are large institutions, and Punter has no ability to pay back a large sum of money while he’s in jail.