B.C. man who defrauded his child's mother of life savings receives 3-year prison sentence

·3 min read
Steven Vanbuskirk told the mother of his son that he needed money for legal fees and counselling, but instead spent nearly $29,000 of her money on drugs and drug debt. (Gary Solilak/CBC - image credit)
Steven Vanbuskirk told the mother of his son that he needed money for legal fees and counselling, but instead spent nearly $29,000 of her money on drugs and drug debt. (Gary Solilak/CBC - image credit)

The mother of Steven Wayne Vanbuskirk's child used up all her available credit and worked two jobs to pay off her debt after Vanbuskirk told her he needed help covering legal fees and addiction counselling.

In all, the Vancouver Island woman gave him $28,980 she couldn't afford and was forced to file for bankruptcy, losing everything she'd saved for her children's education, according to a recent B.C. provincial court decision.

But Vanbuskirk wasn't really facing prosecution or paying for lawyers, and he wasn't attending counselling. All that money was actually going toward his drug debt and buying more drugs.

Vanbuskirk has now been sentenced to three years in prison for fraud over $5,000, minus nine months' credit for time already served. He's also been ordered to pay back all the money he took.

"Mr. Vanbuskirk stole the life savings of a poor woman, who had sheltered him when he was in need, and the education savings of her children, one of whom was his child. His crime left them destitute. This was a very grave offence, for which he is solely responsible," Judge Ted Gouge wrote in an April 12 judgment.

In making that ruling, the judge noted that Vanbuskirk, 39, has a lengthy criminal record that includes previous convictions for fraud, assault, identity theft and possession of stolen property.

In one case that Gouge described as "particularly significant," Vanbuskirk defrauded WorkSafeBC of $20,197 when he returned to his job after a workplace injury but continued to collect workers' compensation.

'She lost everything she had'

According to the judgment, Vanbuskirk moved in with his ex in December 2015 when he needed a place to stay. The arrangement was only supposed to last for a few weeks, but Vanbuskirk ended up staying for 16 months.

At the time, Vanbuskirk's son was 12 years old and the child's mother was also raising two younger children from other relationships.

In November 2016, Vanbuskirk said he was in urgent need of money to pay for legal representation in criminal court, the judgment says.

Cliff MacArthur/provincialcourt.bc.ca
Cliff MacArthur/provincialcourt.bc.ca

He gave his ex details for bank accounts that he claimed belonged to his lawyers, but which actually belonged to him. He also gave her account information that supposedly belonged to a counsellor who was helping him with his addiction, but that account belonged to him as well.

She "drew on all her available sources of credit" to help Vanbuskirk through his troubles and took on a second job in an attempt to pay off the debt, but couldn't manage it, the judge said.

"In the end, she made an assignment in bankruptcy. Her assets were insufficient to pay her debts, and she lost everything she had, including the Registered Education Savings Plans which she had established for her children," Gouge wrote.

The judge noted that repaying his drug debts was of "pressing importance" for Vanbuskirk because he had been seriously injured in the past when he was assaulted by drug dealers demanding their money.

With that in mind, his lawyer argued that Vanbuskirk's moral culpability was reduced because he was "motivated by desperation and survival," the judgment says.

But the judge said that factor is less significant than the gravity of Vanbuskirk's crime and its impact on his victim.

Gouge also questioned the sincerity of Vanbuskirk's apology to the woman he'd defrauded during a sentencing hearing, saying it was just "another example of the exercise by Mr. Vanbuskirk of the rhetorical skills which enabled him to defraud" his victim.

Vanbuskirk did plead guilty to fraud over $5,000, but that was only after a preliminary inquiry in B.C. Supreme Court that was adjourned twice.

"His expression of repentance comes too late in the day to be convincing," Gouge said.

The judge also wrote that while probation can be useful in some cases, Vanbuskirk has a history of breaching probation and failing to attend court, so there is little reason to believe he would participate "constructively" in any probation programs.

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