A former Winnipeg home-care worker has been sentenced to two years probation for stealing money from an elderly client’s purse in an incident that was caught on a hidden video camera.
Myrna Jacqueline McDougall, 54, appeared in court Monday morning after pleading guilty to theft. She offered a tearful apology, blaming her actions on work and personal stress.
"I’m very sorry for what I did," she said.
Provincial court Judge Tim Killeen called her actions "despicable" and rejected her bid for a conditional discharge which would have allowed her to maintain a clean criminal record. He sentenced her to two years of probation, plus 75 hours of community service work.
"It’s hard to think of a situation that would be more of a violation of trust," said Killeen.
As the Free Press first reported last Saturday, McDougall was nabbed red-handed taking $25 out of the purse of Viola Dufresne, 82, who had purchased a spy-camera disguised as an alarm clock last summer.
Dufresne suspected she was being victimized but had no proof. She told court Monday her total loss was close to $1,100 over a six-month period in money taken from her purse and a safe in her apartment.
McDougall only admitted to the one incident which was caught on camera last June. She told police she needed the money "to buy smokes." The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority immediately fired McDougall, who had been employed for 18 years.
Outside court, Dufresne said she felt justice had been served. She hopes the incident raises awareness for other seniors in Winnipeg.
"There are so many seniors who know absolutely nothing about the law or what their rights are. I find that so very sad," said Dufresne.
Her daughter, Joretta Robidoux, joked that she should maybe start renting her spy-camera out to others.
"I’m proud of her. She’s a crusader for honesty and justice," said Robidoux.
Justice officials say they've never seen a case quite like this, where someone of the victim's age essentially launched their own successful investigation.
Dufresne said the trouble began when she was discharged from hospital in early 2013 after having surgery on her legs. She was living at the Sturgeon Creek Retirement Residence but needed daily home care because her husband was very ill and had just moved to a care home.
McDougall, who was not an employee of the residence, began dropping by daily, usually between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
"She was a good worker, a nice conversationalist," said Dufresne. "I figured someone must have a key and be coming in. I never suspected her."
But cameras don't lie. And police were struggling to do much when Dufresne first contacted them to say she believed money had gone missing. One young officer mentioned how a friend of his had set up surveillance to catch thieves breaking into his cottage.
So Dufresne went home, did some online research and spotted quite the deal: a $500 spy-cam, designed to look like a clock radio, on sale for $250.
A few mouse clicks later and it was on its way. Days later, the camera arrived, but Dufresne couldn't get it working. It was broken.
"I thought it was a scam," said Dufresne.
She sent it back, this time to a Canadian distributor for the company, and they eventually replaced it. Dufresne then spent a few hours on the phone with a technician in Niagara Falls as she set up the camera to ensure it was working.
"I did rehearsals with it for a few days," she said, noting it was pointed directly at the doorway where she'd park her scooter and hang her purse and coat. "You'd never know it was there."
Once in place last June, Dufresne began finding excuses to leave McDougall alone in her room for extended periods of time. She would often linger in the bathroom, saying she needed extra time to do her hair or makeup. In reality, she was setting the trap.
"I'm not a dumb bunny," she said Friday. The proverbial "smoking gun" came on day five.