Lakeside Leader Staff
For South Peace News
On May 31, 2023, a former Northern Lakes College employee was sentenced in Slave Lake Court of Justice to two years in jail for embezzlement.
Court heard from Dec. 11, 2018 to April 13, 2020, Cindy Martin wrote cheques to herself from a Northern Lakes College (NLC) staff professional development fund. She worked in administration at the Slave Lake campus of the college for about 12 years. She stole $285,000 from the fund by writing 131 cheques between $500 and $5,000.
At one point, Martin was on the union committee which oversaw the fund. At the time of the crimes, she had moved into management and no longer had official access to the fund.
The chequebook was in a locked cabinet in the office she worked in, court heard. She broke in to forge the cheques. She stopped when the last cheque bounced, said Crown prosecutor Terrance Hudson. It bounced because the fund was empty.
However, she then defrauded Slave Lake Winks of the amount of that final cheque, which was $1,950.
The cheques required double signatures, said Hudson. Therefore, Martin forged the signatures of four of her colleagues. Two of these colleagues wrote victim impact statements, with one writing for the other two.
Other victims were the staff who paid union fees into the fund and could no longer use it to pay for professional development.
The college has agreed to waive the fees for NLC courses, but used to be paid tuition from the fund.
Martin pleaded guilty on July 27, 2022 in Slave Lake provincial court, since renamed Slave Lake Court of Justice. Sentencing was set for Jan. 4, 2023, but various factors prompted a delay. In the meantime, Martin hired lawyer Lisa Trach.
During sentencing, Trach told court Martin had no criminal record. She had worked very hard and had a house and a car and was the main caregiver for her child, whose father lives in another community.
Then one night, Trach said, adding a bit of drama to the narrative, Martin went to the bar and met a guy. She started using cocaine and gambling.
Defense and prosecution did not agree on sentencing. Hudson asked for 24 months plus a day of federal custody. Trach recommended 18-24 months to be served in the community as a conditional sentence order. She added that if the sentence had to be served in jail, Martin would prefer a federal sentence of 24 months or more.
Hudson and Trach agreed substance abuse and other programs in federal prison are better than in provincial jail.
Aggravating factors in the case were the amount of money, duration (the length the crime took), the number of victims and the breach of trust. Hudson and Trach agreed that $285,000 was a lot of money and that Martin breached trust with her colleagues.
They disagreed on the other two matters. Hudson considered 17 months as a long time to commit the crimes.
“A year and a half is not that long in these circumstances,” argued Trach.
Her reasoning was that as an addict, Martin would have had some savings to blow through before she started stealing the NLC fund money. Trach contrasted this with someone who stole money, but were not in financial need, often over five or more years.
Another difference had to do with sophistication. Hudson considered forging colleagues’ signatures and taking the chequebook home during the COVID-19 pandemic sophisticated.
Trach did not.
“This isn’t about whether she’s going to get caught,” said Trach. “It’s when she’ll be caught.”
On May 31 in Slave Lake Court of Justice, Justice S.P. Hinkley sentenced Martin to 24 months for fraud over $5,000 and two concurrent sentences. For forging a document, she received 180 days. Martin received 10 days concurrent for fraud under $5,000 and was ordered to repay Winks $1,950. Having no money, Martin did not receive any victim fine surcharges.
After Martin leaves jail, she is prohibited from having a job or volunteering in any capacity in which she has control over someone else’s assets.