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Former B.C. bookkeeper handed 6-year prison sentence for $1M+ fraud

Carey Earl defrauded Access Human Resources for seven years
Carey Earl (pictured) has been handed a six-year prison sentence after being found guilty of stealing money from a company serving people with disabilities.

Carey Earl's former co-workers and friends packed a Kelowna courtroom Wednesday morning and watched silently as she was taken into custody by a court sheriff, to begin serving her six-year jail sentence.

Earl, 62, worked for 12 years as the bookkeeper for Access Human Resources, a publicly funded Kelowna company that provides services to developmentally disabled people in the community. The company's executive director Cliff Andrusko began noticing accounting discrepancies in 2018 and a subsequent investigation uncovered her fraudulent scheme, where she funnelled more than $1 million from the company over a seven-year period.

Following a trial last fall, a jury convicted Earl of fraud over $5,000. During her sentencing hearing last month, Crown prosecutor Jessica Saris argued Earl's “moral culpability” in the long-running, complex scheme was high, and an appropriate sentence should be between six and eight years in jail.

Earl's defence counsel Mark Chiu, meanwhile, said that while Earl was convicted of, and admitted to, a fraud of over $5,000, the jury's conviction never explicitly stated the total amount they believed was stolen, and Chiu said it was much less than than the Crown's alleged $1.35 million.

Chiu argued Earl should avoid jail time all together, seeking a two-year conditional sentence order that would have seen her serve her time in the community, under house-arrest conditions.

In response, Saris said the Crown's case was effectively “all or nothing” when it came to the amount stolen, and she said sentencing judge Gary Weatherill should take the jury's conviction to mean they accepted the fraud involved the $1.35 million.

'An appalling crime'

Ultimately, Justice Weatherill largely accepted the Crown's sentencing position, and gave her six years of jail time for her seven-year fraudulent scheme.

“You must realize you have committed an appalling crime by stealing money from your employer who trusted you. You have breached that trust. You caused not only serious financial damage but you have caused AHR's reputation in the community to be tarnished. You have caused damage to your family and your friends. I consider your actions egregious,” Justice Weatherill said.

“You, Ms. Earl, a trusted bookkeeper, helped yourself to well over $1 million of money from an employer who trusted you implicitly. You took advantage of that trust to spend money on yourself, pay off credit card debt and fund a lifestyle that included lavish vacations.

“Anything less [than six years imprisonment] would fail to adequately punish and denounce you for the magnitude of your wrongdoing ... for willfully, deliberately and repetitively stealing significant amounts of money from your employer who trusted you, for your own selfish use. That money is unaccounted for and nothing has been paid back.”

While Justice Weatherill noted he wasn't convinced the full amount of the Crown's alleged fraud was proven – due to some “minor transactions” that may have been legitimate – he said he was satisfied that Earl defrauded the company “well in excess of $1 million.”

“I am also satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that a good portion of the money Ms. Earl stole was spent on lavish vacations that included Mexico, Las Vegas and cruises,” Justice Weatherill said.

Justice Weatherill also imposed a restitution order of $1 million that Earl is now required to pay back to Access Human Resources, even though he noted that she'll likely not be in a position to pay it.

Defence's theory rejected

Throughout the trial, and again during sentencing submissions, Earl's defence counsel Mark Chiu suggested that AHR executive director Andrusko had instructed Earl to siphon off funds from the company over the seven-year period to devalue his company during his divorce proceedings with his ex-wife.

In convicting Earl, the jury wholly rejected this theory, and during Wednesday's sentencing, Justice Weatherill once again dismissed the idea.

“Ms. Earl's submissions at sentencing focused mainly on attempting to diminish her moral culpability and blaming Mr. Andrusko for either expressly or implicitly encouraging her to manipulate AHR's books and take AHR's money for her own use,” Justice Weatherill said.

“I reject the entirety of Ms. Earl's submission with respect to the defence theory ... They are based on the theory of a case and facts that are entirely inconsistent with the evidence at trial. Mr. Andrusko's uncontradicted evidence was that, save for some very minor transactions that he could not be sure about, the Earl payments were unauthorized and fraudulent.”

Following Wednesday morning's sentencing, Andrusko said that being accused of wrongdoing during cross-examination at trial was "probably the most hurtful thing I've ever been through."

"It was good for a judge to see through that," Andrusko said.

'Reaped the consequences'

Andrusko said that he wasn't expecting to see Earl get the full six years the Crown had sought, but he's happy with the result.

"Carey is the example of dishonesty and complete disregard for others, it's disappointing ... she was there to steal the rewards," Andrusko said. "I guess today, Carey reaped the consequences."

In a presentence report from last month, Earl admitted to defrauding AHR for her own gain due to “financial pressures at home," although she did not admit to how much she stole. She also acknowledged her actions were wrong and apologized, but Andrusko suggested the apology was self-serving, rather than sincere.

"That's how I remember Carey, she'll say what she wants when she wants," Andrusko said.

Justice Weatherill noted Earl did not have any mental health, substance abuse or gambling addictions at the time she committed her fraud that might lessen her moral culpability.

Earl's health has declined in recent years though. She has since been diagnosed with rectal cancer, along with diabetes, high blood pressure, Crohn's disease and depression. Justice Weatherill added that Earl had been bed-ridden “for extended periods of time.”

Earl had no prior credit for any time served. She'll be able to apply for full parole after serving one-third of her sentence behind bars.

Andrusko said now that the criminal matter is concluded, he'll continue to pursue civil action against Earl.