Man collected $107K in mother's old age benefits after her death

A Saint John man who fraudulently collected his mother's old age benefits for almost eight years after her death has been given a two-year community sentence.

Keith Ernest Raynes, 67, of Macaulay Avenue, was sentenced Wednesday in Saint John provincial court for fraud over $5,000 against the Government of Canada from May 20, 2012, to March 15, 2021.

As part of his decision, Judge Claude Haché told the court that Service Canada's financial crimes unit notified police in July of 2021 that it had found automatic old age security and Canada Pension Plan payments into a Scotiabank account for a person who had died in 2012.

Her son, Raynes, had received letters from the Canada Revenue Agency but the CRA had not been informed of her death, Haché said. Bank information showed $107,000 was deposited into the account, which was being used by a card linked to Raynes, court heard.

Haché called it "serious," and "more than a momentary lapse" in judgment because it continued over a years-long period.

"He did not come forward to stop the fraud, and he spent the money like it was his own," Haché said. "The court finds it particularly distressing that the only reason it stopped is because he got caught."

The judge said there's a popular misconception that this type of crime is victimless, but quoted case law saying defrauding the government amounts to defrauding "one's fellow citizens."

The Crown and defence reached a joint sentencing agreement of a two-year conditional sentence order, plus a $15,000 fine and a restitution order of $92,000, citing evidentiary issues in the Crown's case and mitigating factors in Raynes' favour, Haché said.

The judge noted that prior to changes made in 2022, fraud over $5,000 was not eligible for a conditional sentence order, and the Crown could have argued that applied in this case. But he accepted the conditional sentence order, citing previous "exceptional" cases where those with no record escaped jail time.

Defence lawyer Reid Chedore had argued that "wilful blindness" was a factor, Hache said, which refers to the idea of not making an inquiry because a person doesn't wish to know the truth. However, Haché said it doesn't assist the court in explaining why it took place over eight years and it does not reduce Rayne's moral culpability.

Raynes, who has no record, pleaded guilty and was remorseful, Haché said. Raynes works seasonally and supplants his income with old age security and the Canadian Pension Plan, and has work history involving insurance, event hosting, broadcasting and tourism, as well as volunteer experience, according to Haché. The judge said Raynes was said to have depression stemming from the charges and was hospitalized after a suicide attempt, and is taking counselling.

The sentence carries conditions to keep the peace and attend programming as directed by a supervisor. The fine, in lieu of forfeiture, will have to be paid within five years of the end of the sentence, or result in eight months in jail in default, Haché said. The restitution order has a 10-year deadline, and the federal government can seek that money through a court order if unpaid, court heard.

"I acknowledge that it will be difficult for the accused to pay the entire amount," Haché said, saying that ability to pay is only one factor of sentencing, and that case law holds that "offenders should not be permitted to walk away" when proceeds of fraud are not recovered.

Raynes, a long-time figure in the Saint John sports community, is the co-founder of the East Coast Games, participates as a broadcaster for some sports events, and served as a sales manager for Discover Saint John from 2013 to 2016. He declined comment through Chedore on Wednesday.

Andrew Bates, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Telegraph-Journal