Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Elderly detective gets justice

Home-care worker sentenced for theft

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Viola Dufresne hopes she's done a lot more than bring a thief to justice.

The 82-year-old Winnipeg woman says her unusual story should be a wake-up call to other seniors who might have no idea they're being victimized.

Dufresne watched Monday as her former home-care worker admitted stealing money from Dufresne's purse in an incident caught on a hidden video camera.

"There are so many seniors who know absolutely nothing about the law or what their rights are. I find that so very sad," Dufresne said outside court. "I think some seniors are really big targets."

Myrna Jacqueline McDougall, 54, offered a tearful apology after pleading guilty to theft, blaming her actions on work and personal stress.

"I'm very sorry for what I did," she said.

'There are so many seniors who know absolutely nothing about the law or what their rights are. I find that so very sad. I think some seniors are really big targets'

— sleuthing senior Viola Dufresne

Provincial court Judge Tim Killeen called her actions "despicable" and rejected her bid for a conditional discharge that 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," Killeen said. "Frankly, it's a very disturbing type of crime."

As the Free Press first reported last Saturday, McDougall was nabbed red-handed taking $25 from Dufresne's purse. Dufresne 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 which money was taken from her purse and a safe in her apartment.

McDougall only admitted to the one incident 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 in its employ for 18 years.

McDougall's lawyer claimed this was an "isolated incident" she immediately regretted.

"She's absolutely beating herself up over this," Aaron Braun told court. "She was maxed out from helping people."

Dufresne presented a victim-impact statement in court, saying the episode has left her unable to trust many people and suffering from many sleepless nights.

The stress of being victimized in her own home by someone she trusted was compounded by her health problems and the recent death of her husband, she said.

"I'm afraid I will be taken advantage of again," she said.

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.

"I'm proud of her. She's a crusader for honesty and justice," Dufresne's daughter, Joretta Robidoux, said Monday outside court.

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.

Police were struggling to investigate when Dufresne first contacted them to say she believed money had gone missing. One young officer mentioned 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.

Once in place last June, Dufresne began finding excuses to leave McDougall alone in her room for extended periods. 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.

McDougall was caught in the act on the fifth day the camera was turned on, court was told.

www.mikeoncrime.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 27, 2014 A3

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