A woman who stole $116,000 from the exhibit room of the Mission RCMP detachment over a four-year period betrayed the trust of her co-workers and the public and should serve jail time, a B.C. Supreme Court judge ruled Tuesday in New Westminster.
Justice Lance Bernard sentenced former District of Mission employee April Kirsten Smith, 46, to 18 months in prison to be followed by two years of probation.
Bernard said he didn’t believe that Smith’s gambling addiction, which was cited as the reason for the thefts, constituted “extreme personal mitigating circumstances,” as her lawyer had previously argued in recommending she receive a conditional sentence (house arrest).
Bernard said Smith’s actions could best be defined as a “behavioural disorder” rather than a mental one.
Smith, a Maple Ridge resident, was arrested and charged in February 2014 with breach of trust, theft over $5,000 and a public servant refusing to deliver property.
She pleaded guilty to the breach offence five months later, and the other two charges were stayed.
Smith worked as the main exhibit custodian for the Mission RCMP from August 2008 until the money was discovered missing in January 2013.
She was in charge of taking items – such as cash, weapons and drugs – that had been seized by police, transferring them from a temporary locker and logging the items.
She would also track the items until they were no longer needed.
This enabled Smith to change records, or not log the items at all, as she removed cash from the exhibits.
The tip-off came during a routine audit on Jan. 15, 2013, when an investigator was checking a file on an exhibit recorded as containing $14,000.
The file indicated the money was in the safe, and she asked Smith to see it.
Smith did not produce the exhibit, and when the investigator again looked at the record, the details had been changed, indicating the funds had been forfeited to the receiver-general.
Further checks revealed the receiver-general had not received the $14,000, and the envelope that should have contained the money had only a crumpled $50 bill.
Smith, who had gone through previous audits without suspicion, was suspended, and an investigation was launched.
Of the 133 files that were examined, 99 had been compromised and 89 were missing cash in amounts of $100 or more.
Bernard said because Smith initially denied having a role in the thefts, many officers and civilian employees were placed under scrutiny during the investigation, and this affected morale.
He read excerpts from victim impact statements from four of Smith’s former co-workers, who all said they felt betrayed and angered by her actions.
“Congratulations. I hope it was worth the ride,” said one.
Smith, who now works as a swimming instructor, eventually admitted to having taken the funds to fuel a gambling addiction, through which she estimates losing approximately $600,000 over the years. She remortgaged her home, maxed out her credit cards and borrowed money from her parents, the court heard.
Her lawyer said it had been Smith’s intention to pay back the stolen money with her winnings.
The court heard that since her arrest, Smith has attended 22 counselling sessions to address her addiction, and she has not gambled since.
Bernard said he took this into consideration, along with Smith’s “sincere remorse” and her desire to pay back the funds, but he felt a jail term was necessary.
“She showed reckless disregard for the justice system as a whole when she was stealing money,” he said.
Terms of Smith’s probation include continued counselling to address her addiction, not attending casinos or gambling online, and not contacting her former co-workers without the written permission of her probation officer.
She has also been ordered to pay back the stolen $116,000 to the Mission RCMP.