Jail time for former Elizabeth Fry Society manager guilty of $240k fraud

The Prince George courthouse on the day of Rhonda Lee Bailey's sentencing in provincial court. (Betsy Trumpener/CBC News - image credit)

The former financial manager of the Elizabeth Fry Society in Prince George, B.C., was led out of the courtroom in handcuffs Tuesday, after she was sentenced to a two-and-a-half-year jail term for stealing almost a quarter-million dollars that was supposed to help vulnerable women and girls.

Rhonda Lee Bailey stole $240,000 over a five-year period from the Prince George and District Elizabeth Fry Society and its housing society, where she was in charge of finances, according to an agreed statement of facts.

Bailey, also known as Rhonda Lee Camozzi, pleaded guilty to fraud over $5,000.

At the sentencing hearing in Prince George Provincial Court, Judge Peter McDermick read out the agreed statement of facts.

The court heard that between 2013 and 2018, Bailey made more than 1,000 fraudulent transactions using the non-profit organization's credit cards, later saying she needed the money to "maintain her children's lifestyles."

Bailey used the money to pay for personal vacations, flights, hotels, meals, online shopping, dog kennel fees, Lululemon clothing, and other items.

The judge said Bailey used her financial expertise, extensive knowledge of the organization's policies, and position of trust to carry out the crime and keep it hidden for five years.

Bailey had worked at the Elizabeth Fry Society in Prince George for 12 years before her actions came to light in a 2018 financial audit, and she was fired.

In court, the Crown said staff were "haunted" that Bailey's actions meant the organization lost the opportunity to connect with more clients.

Staff still suffer from sadness, disbelief, anger, and a sense of betrayal, according to Crown, and the crime also had a deep impact on the organization's funders.

The judge noted that a large number of people provided positive character references for Bailey. McDermick said they described Bailey as loving, honest, a selfless mother and role model, and that family and friends were "shocked" when she was charged.

Crown argued that Bailey's positive character attributes were the very thing that allowed her to work in a position of trust and keep her crime undetected.

Bailey declined to speak at the sentencing hearing. Her defence lawyer read out Bailey's written statement, which said she was "incredibly sorry" for causing "stress and heartache," and wished she could go back and change what happened.

The judge said aggravating factors in the case included the position of trust Bailey held, the magnitude and duration of her crime, the fact that a non-profit organization was targeted, and that a significant number of victims were impacted.

"This is a grave set of circumstances," he said.

The judge sentenced Bailey to a two-and-a-half year jail sentence. She's also subject to a restitution order to repay the $240,000.

As Elizabeth Fry staff and supporters left the courtroom after sentencing, a sheriff allowed Bailey to hug family and friends sitting behind her in the gallery, before taking her into custody,

The defence had been seeking a non-custodial sentence of two years less a day, served under house arrest, with a repayment plan for the money that had been stolen.

The Prince George and District Elizabeth Fry Society and its sister agency, the Prince George Elizabeth Fry Housing Society, provide a wide range of services, including transition homes for victims of domestic violence, support for pregnant women and young children, counselling, and the provision of housing for low-income families, people with disabilities, and senior citizens.

Bailey was well-known in Prince George as a curler. Competing as Rhonda Camozzi, she played on the team that won the B.C. Scotties Tournament of Hearts title in 2015.