Anne Squires is almost certainly going to jail — the only question is for how long.
The former owner of Exit Realty on the Rock had a sentencing hearing at the Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court in St. John's Tuesday morning. There, her lawyer, Randy Piercey, and the Crown's counterpart, Arnold Hussey, made their submissions to the judge about how much time she should serve, and Squires herself spoke about her crimes.
The Crown is asking for three years, while the defence believes a sentence in the range of eight to 10 months would be appropriate.
Squires was charged back in 2016, nine months after Exit Realty on the Rock had its licence pulled by the province and collapsed into receivership.
Last year, Squires pleaded guilty to fraud, forgery, theft and breach of trust. She admitted to stealing from her now-defunct company and defrauding a payday-loan-style company of half a million dollars. That company, AccessEasyFunds, serves the real-estate industry.
According to court documents, Squires faked 33 sales agreements to get cash.
'I screwed up big time'
In a 29-minute address to the court Tuesday, Squires both accepted responsibility for what happened and talked about business decisions and pressures that she believes contributed to the situation.
She stressed that things were fine at her business until 2013. That's when she took over responsibility for all of the Atlantic region for Exit Realty's parent company. She described the announcement as being sprung on her at a convention, and said she was required to write a $1.5 million cheque.
"I should have pulled the plug but I didn't," she said.
In a statement that was at times difficult to hear because of the audio quality of the video link, an emotional Squires made repeated references to "loan sharks" in describing her financial problems.
At one point in late 2015, she said things got so bad that she couldn't use any of the cards in her wallet to buy an ice cream for her granddaughter.
"I am prepared for the worst," Squires told the court. "I screwed up big time."
'Significant' fraud: Crown
In his submission to the judge, Squires's lawyer stressed that his 61-year-old client is a first offender who received a good pre-sentence report, and is successfully moving on with her life.
Piercey noted that the matter has been hanging over her head for 45 months, and little of the delay was her fault.
The Crown, meanwhile, said the magnitude and complexity of the fraud was "significant" and pointed to the large number of victims — including a bank, real-estate agents, vendors and purchasers, and AccessEasyFunds.
Hussey's submission also stressed that Squires took advantage of her high regard in the community while committing the offences.
"The acts committed were not done in a moment of weakness," the Crown's submission noted.
"They represent ongoing acts of deception."
The Crown also stressed that the real estate industry "relies heavily on trust and ethical conduct."
The matter is scheduled to be back in court in September, when the judge is expected to render his sentencing decision.
Squires was not physically present at Tuesday's hearing, instead appearing by video.
Justice Robert Stack advised that she will have to appear in person on Sept. 10, when the matter returns.
"We will need Ms. Squires for that, because she will be going into custody," Stack said.