9-month conditional sentence for woman who drained, then repaid, Bunyan's Cove bank accounts
Stephanie Chatman fought back tears in Clarenville's provincial courtroom Wednesday, as she apologized to the court and her community for the fraud she committed.
Chatman pleaded guilty to fraud and forgery, and admitted that she wrote 16 cheques over an 18-month period between 2017 and 2018, draining the Bunyan's Cove local service district of $98,640.
"It's not something that I've ever done before, it's not something that I would ever do again," she said. "I'm just so sorry for everything."
Chatman, a member of the local service district's committee, was responsible for keeping the books. According to an agreed-upon statement of facts at court, she forged the signature of one of the other members of the committee when she wrote some of the cheques.
Those cheques were sent to her or to her family businesses.
"She deeply regrets her decisions," said her lawyer, Erin Breen. "They were not intended, in the long term, to defraud anyone. It was a very bad decision to try and save her family business."
Crown attorney Chris McCarthy and Judge Paul Noble agreed it was a notable mitigating factor that Chatman repaid the money — and a bit more — by writing a cheque back to the local service district's account in August 2019.
"I have never seen a situation, I have to say, where the monies — any amount of money, frankly, but certainly not $100,000 — was repaid before the crime was detected," he said in delivering his decision. "That is a significant mitigating factor."
It was ultimately that cheque, refunding the money taken, that tipped off the new members of the Bunyan's Cove local service district. They went to the RCMP to complain about unexplained spending.
Some members also went public with their concerns in a CBC Investigates story — they worried the financial state meant their community's plans to secure a new fire truck to replace a Ford 750 from 1971 would be in jeopardy.
A new truck was eventually delivered in March of the following year.
On Wednesday, Chatman was sentenced to a nine-month conditional sentence that will mostly confine her to her home in Bunyan's Cove, with a few exceptions. That will be followed by 12 months of probation.
Despite the seriousness of the crime, Noble said, he didn't believe there would be any benefit in sending Chatman to prison. He said he found Chatman to be very remorseful, and noted that she will continue to face social consequences in her community — where she still lives — for what happened.
"I dare say that she has gained a degree of notoriety in her community that is probably still present today, and likely will for a long time. She has to live with that, every day, in her community."
Her conditional sentence prohibits her from holding cheques or credit cards for institutions that aren't hers or her businesses.
Noble said he felt it was very unlikely he would ever see Chatman back in his courtroom again, but warned that if he did, the consequences would be more severe.