Honorable Judge Rita S. Bowry sent a strong message yesterday when she sentenced Nicole Kelly to two years in prison with an order for full restitution for her fraudulent activity since 2006.
Kelly, a 26-year old woman from Fort St. John, plead guilty to fraud and stealing over $150,000 in two separate cases involving a community organization and a former employer.
Her crimes included stealing $103, 729.34 from the Fort St. John Mixed Slowpitch League over the course of three years while she acted as the club's treasurer and stealing $52,902.98 from her former employer HUB International Barton in Fort St. John.
In the case, Crown counsel sought a three-year jail sentence and an order of full restitution, stating that her actions were deliberate and planned with not motivation other than greed.
Defense argued that a two-year jail sentence with no restitution would be appropriate because Kelly was cooperative and remorseful, and that the order to repay the monies stolen would greatly affect her chances of rehabilitation.
Judge Bowry noted many of the case's points in her sentencing, providing reason behind her decision.
"Here, the offense was grave," said Judge Bowry, also noting that it is recognized that the charged took responsibility for her actions and was cooperative.
However, the judge pointed out that Kelly only came forward when she was about to be discovered by both organizations and that she may not have stopped stealing from them had she not been about to be discovered.
"It was a serious breach of trust," said Judge Bowry. "Societies such as this rely on individuals like Ms. Kelly to act in a trustworthy manner."
The judge said that in this case, the Crown's request for three years in prison was not appropriate and instead handed down a sentence in line with defense's submission of two years served concurrently.
The matter of restitution was more complicated and Judge Bowry noted that an order for restitution was a discretionary one.
Defense had argued that a restitution order would be challenging due to Kelly's large amounts of debt, approximately $37,000, and her limited earning potential as a personal trainer. John Hope, the defense lawyer representing Kelly, said that an order of restitution would affect her ability for rehabilitation.
However, the judge noted that because Kelly was young and healthy with a bright future ahead of her, that she should be able to pay back the money she stole.
To that effect, two standalone orders of restitution were ordered to provide full repayment to the organizations that Kelly stole from.
Janet Prestley, President of the Mixed Slow Pitch League, said that relief was the only word she could use to sum up how the club executive was feeling.
"We're extremely happy; there were actually tears of joy when the sentence was announced. This allows us to at least move forward," said Prestley.
The over $100,000 loss continues to cause difficulty for the league, which has had to raise fees and campaign to build membership numbers in order to begin reversing the impact that this situation has had on them.
In addition to having to find alternate means to pay for a $45,000 project that was started before the situation came to light, the club is still in arrears with the city over rent on the baseball fields that was not paid during Kelly's time as treasurer and has continued to roll forward.
Judge Bowry also noted the hit to the league's reputation because the community, as a whole, has questioned their ability to manage funds.
"To have this level of trust questioned, it's heartbreaking," said Prestley.
Prestley noted that the league has changed their accounting procedures now to provide more protection for the group, as well as for the person who has taken on the Treasurer role.
The group feels that it was a fair decision and appreciated that the judge took in to account similar cases in making her decision.
"[The decision] says you're not going to be able to take that kind of money away and put a society basically in to bankruptcy and think you're going to get away with it," said Prestley. "We can finally move forward, and it's a huge relief for all of us."
HUB International did not provide comment on the sentence.
Kelly had over nearly 20 people in the gallery supporting her when the sentence was passed down including her husband, parents, sister and some aunts and uncles.
The Kelly family could not be reached for comment at this time.