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Former MTYP financial administrator sentenced for fraud

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Manitoba Theatre for Young  People has been struggling with severe cashflow problems and heavy debt.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS ARCHIVES Enlarge Image

Manitoba Theatre for Young People has been struggling with severe cashflow problems and heavy debt. Photo Store

The former financial administrator of Manitoba Theatre for Young People was sentenced to nine months' house arrest this week for stealing more than $63,000 from the local troupe.

Kathleen Owen-Hunt, 39, pleaded guilty in March to the charges and was sentenced Wednesday by Provincial court Judge Dale Schille.

A tearful Owen-Hunt stood and apologized to a representative of the theatre group, adding she realized her thefts only worsened the group’s ongoing financial difficulties.

Owen-Hunt then broke down and cried openly as she apologized to her spouse sitting in the gallery.

"I put us in a horrible, horrible position," Owen-Hunt said. "I just want to be a better person."

Owen-Hunt began working at MTYP in March 2006 and began stealing from them in March 2008 until she left at the end of October 2011.

Defence counsel Timothy Valgardson said the thefts were an attempt by Owen-Hunt to get out from under $40,000 in credit card debt that she and her spouse had incurred.

Crown prosecutor Mandy Ambrose said that Owen-Hunt, whose duties included directing a third-party payroll firm, conducted an unsophisticated scam over a three-and-a-half-year period where she overpaid herself in overtime and vacation to which she was not entitled, and she set up payroll accounts in the name of three former employees and had the funds deposited into her own personal bank account, for a total of 114 separate transactions.

"It was planned and it was deliberate," Ambrose said of the scheme, adding it was only discovered after she left.

The MTYP said it was satisfied with the court ruling.

"We’re happy with the sentence," said MTYP board president Gloria Koop. "Her apology to the public was heartfelt and sincere and we accept it.

"We’ve had a really hard past year financially in terms of cash flow so any amount of cash we can get in is a bonus," said Koop.

Ambrose and Valgardson had proposed a joint recommendation for sentencing, which included the nine-month conditional sentence with an absolute curfew, followed by 12 months of supervised probation, a restitution order and community service.

Ambrose said she agreed to the joint recommendation after learning that Owen-Hunt had already repaid MTYP $20,000 and, through her lawyer, negotiated a settlement plan to repay the entire amount by August 2015, in monthly payments of $250.

In addition, Owen-Hunt paid MYTP $9,700 to cover its legal costs for negotiating the settlement.

MYTP had also garnisheed Owen-Hunt’s bank account in December 2011, recovering almost $2,900.

Owen-Hunt now operates a home-based daycare.

The court was told that Owen-Hunt came up with the partial repayment when her mother refinanced her own house .

To pay off the outstanding debt to MTYP, and the money she owes her mother, court was told that Owen-Hunt and her spouse will sell their interest in a time-share and they have agreed to refinance their own mortgage when it comes up for renewal.

Schille said that Owen-Hunts’ actions were a serious breach of trust, adding stealing from MTYP when it was having other financial problems was akin to, "kicking someone when they are down. (MTYP) were going through a crisis when part of this was going on."

 

aldo.santin@freepress.mb.ca

 

-- with files from Kevin Prokosh

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