Woman frauds Métis Nation $175,000

Emma New, former executive director of the Métis Nation of Alberta Region 5, will serve a two-year less a day sentence in her home at Driftpile Cree Nation after being sentenced in Slave Lake Court of Justice Oct. 18 by Justice S.P. Hinkley.

New earlier pleaded guilty to fraud.

Court heard a tale of how New, 34, needed money to feed her drug habit. Over 10 months, between June 2020 and May 13, 2021, New stole $175,000 from Region 5. Some of the money was designated for COVID-19 support for Métis citizens.

At the time, New had access to the accounts without any oversight, Crown Prosecutor Nuha Abunada told court. Abunada added New e-transferred the money into her own account many times, sometimes daily.

Dallas Gelineau appeared in court as New’s lawyer. He said New started stealing the money to pay for drugs. He added his client’s addiction started after a rollover injured her back and legs in 2019. She was prescribed Percocet, a prescription opioid, for the pain. Because it is a highly addictive drug, her doctor stopped the prescription, but New was hooked. When she sought help, she was taking 10 to 12 pills a day. In April 2021, to her credit, she contacted Alberta’s Virtual Opioid Suboxone program for help.

Court heard police eventually discovered the crime after New confessed the fraud to the Region 5 president and vice-president. New even wrote a confession. RCMP started an investigation, New confessed to the police and she was charged in 2021.

However, New did not confess to the crimes in court until the day of trial Jan. 10. Before sentencing, New requested a Gladue Report and sentencing was adjourned until May 24. On that day, court heard New was considering entering the Bigstone Cree Nation Restorative

Justice Program. The matter went over several times for her to apply and complete the program.

Oct. 18, sentencing took the entire afternoon, with Abunada and Gelineau asking for different sentences. Abunada recommended 18 months to two years less a day in jail. Gelineau countered with two years less a day served as a conditional sentence order in the community.

One of the previous cases referenced in court was of Cindy Martin, who received two years in jail for defrauding a Northern Lakes College fund out of $285,000 from Dec. 18 to April 2020. She was sentenced on May 13, 2023 in Slave Lake.

Abunada also presented several cases where the Alberta Court of Appeal overturned conditional sentence orders for large fraud convictions.

“I submit that it’s not a fit sentence in this case,” she said.

Counsel did agree on the aggravating factors in the case. The fraud happened over a long period of time, New violated a position of trust, the amount of money was very large, and there were many victims (MNA Region 5 has around 1,500 citizens).

Counsel also agreed it is very common for people convicted of fraud to not have a previous criminal record.

Gelineau blamed New’s actions on drugs. The crimes “took place as a result of opioids,” he said, adding “This isn’t planned and deliberate action.”

Abunada conceded the e-transfers were not sophisticated.

Counsel also agreed the starting point for sentencing was 18 months to two-years in jail.

However, Gelineau argued that New’s Gladue factors, her confessing before she got caught, and the work she has done to deal with her addiction were ‘exceptional circumstances’ which made serving the sentence in the community an option.

New identifies as Métis and is a member of Driftpile, added Gelineau. She has relatives who attended Indian residential school. Her father had addiction issues and wasn’t very involved in her upbringing. Her mother worked a lot.

New has her own home at Driftpile and is the guardian of a five year old, who she has raised since the child was six months old.

When New committed the crimes, she had a high school diploma, added Gelineau. Since then, New has completed a 10-month certificate to be an addictions and community services worker.

At the time of her guilty plea in January 2023, she was working in the addictions field for Driftpile but when the newspaper article came out, she lost her job. She has since finished the course work part of a child care worker program and just has a one-month practicum to finish.

Gelineau told court New has spoken with Driftpile chief and council, who decided to give her a second chance by informing her she can work in her home community when she finishes her education.

“What is the interplay of Gladue and exceptional circumstances?” Justice Hinkley asked Abunada.

Gladue factors apply in a general sense, but not as exceptional circumstances, answered Abunada.

Also, the victims are Indigenous, which the court has to consider.

Gelineau considered the Gladue factors exceptional.

“She blew the whistle on herself,” said Justice Hinkley.

“My concern is the number of transactions over time. It goes to the number of chances to stop,” he added.

New was sentenced to 720 days (two years less a day) to be served in the community. A normal conditional sentence order is half house arrest and house probation with a curfew. New’s sentence includes 540 days (18 months) house arrest which is three-quarters of the sentence.

“It is meant to be a public deterrent sentence,” said Justice Hinkley during sentencing, referring to the extra house arrest.

The final 180 days (three months) New has a curfew from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. During house arrest or her curfew, she requires written permission to leave for work, buying the necessities of life, medical appointments, etc.

During the entire sentence, New is to possess no drugs, alcohol, or cannabis, without a prescription.

“It is a jail sentence,” noted Justice Hinkley.

“You should have no drugs in jail. This is jail in your own home, but it’s the same rules,” he added.

New is ordered to take any prescription medicine (she’s currently on medicine to wean her off of opioids) and provide samples of her blood, urine, or saliva for drug testing. She is also ordered to take assessment, counselling and treatment, provide proof of completion, and sign any forms necessary for her sentence supervisor to monitor her compliance.

“That’s how you stay well,” said Justice Hinkley.

Justice Hinkley considered ordering community service, but decided to give “priority to work and restitution” instead.

Finally, New is prohibited for five years from having authority over anyone else’s money.

Abunada did not ask for a five-year prohibition from New holding authority over anyone else’s money in either a work or volunteer setting because no one is going to hire her for that type of job, she said.

Gelineau agreed, but also considered it a deterrent to the public.

Justice Hinkley agreed and imposed it.

New is ordered to pay $175,000 of restitution through the court to MNA Region 5 or District 21 as it is now called.

The order could take the rest of her working life, said Gelineau.

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