An office manager who stole more than a quarter of a million dollars from her employer has been sentenced to two years in prison and ordered to pay back the money she still owes.
On Dec. 18, Debbie Kim Gagne, now 50, pleaded guilty to defrauding the Image Dental Studio in Red Deer of just under $300,000, of which she has paid back $50,000, leaving her former employer with outstanding losses of $239,557.50.
Defence counsel John MacNaughton said during sentencing in Red Deer provincial court on Wednesday that Gagne took the money to fund her gambling addiction, which went untreated as a result of the light sentence she received in an earlier conviction for a similar offence.
Special prosecutor Tony Bell of Calgary told the court that Gagne had served a one-year conditional sentence in 2004 for fraud and theft at a value of less than $5,000.
The original offence involved 11 transactions in a single day, for which she was charged with 11 counts each of fraud and theft, said Bell. This time, Gagne was charged after the investigation into a series of frauds that took place over a period of more than a year, from late 2009 through to early 2011.
Since admitting her guilt, Gagne has taken a number of measures to address her gambling addiction, including counseling, a two-week residential treatment program and active participation in Gamblers Anonymous, said MacNaughton.
Along with her efforts to pay back the amount she still owes, Gagne has also been assessed $90,000 in income tax by Revenue Canada for the funds she embezzled from her former employer. So far, she has paid $10,000 out of that assessment, he said.
MacNaughton and Bell each recommended a prison term in the range of two years along with the restitution order for the missing money.
Invited to speak before hearing her sentence, Gagne apologized to her former employers and expressed her willingness to pay back the money she had taken from them. “I wish I’d gotten treated sooner,” she said.
Judge Bill Andreasson accepted the sentencing recommendations from the Crown and defence. He said the starting point would be three years in prison based on similar cases, but that Gagne deserved a discount of one year for admitting guilt and for expressing genuine remorse for the harm she caused to the dental clinic, its partners and their families. While Gagne’s gambling addiction offers a reason for her crime, it does not serve as an excuse, said Andreasson.
Alberta courts have recognized embezzling from employers as the worst form of theft because the offenders breach the trust placed in them, he said. The primary goals in sentencing are to denounce the crime and deter others from trying similar crimes, said Andreasson. Lesser penalties would open more opportunities for others who could view theft from their employers as an opportunity for quick wealth, he said.
At MacNaughton’s request, he recommended that Gagne serve her sentence at the Edmonton Institute for Women so she can take part in the rehabilitation programs available there.
Outside the courtroom, dentist Robert Mast, a partner in the Image Dental Studio, said he was glad to see the matter come to a close. “I truly hope that it becomes a deterrent for others who try to steal from work —— for anybody,” said Mast.
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