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Theatre ex-staffer gets house arrest for theft

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

Kathleen Owen-Hunt, 39, was sentenced Wednesday by provincial court Judge Dale Schille after pleading guilty to the charges in March.

A tearful Owen-Hunt stood and apologized to a representative of the theatre group, adding she realized her thefts worsened the group's financial difficulties. She broke down and cried as she apologized to her spouse, who was 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 the group 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.

Crown prosecutor Mandy Ambrose said Owen-Hunt, whose duties included directing a third-party payroll firm, conducted an unsophisticated scam during a 31/2-year period during which she overpaid herself in overtime and vacation pay, and she set up payroll accounts in the names of three former employees and had the funds deposited into her personal bank account in 114 separate transactions.

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

A spokesman said the MTYP is 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 sentencing recommendation that includes the nine-month conditional sentence with a 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 MTYP $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.

Court was told Owen-Hunt came up with the partial repayment after her mother refinanced her own house.

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

Schille said Owen-Hunt's actions were a serious breach of trust, adding stealing from MTYP when it was having financial problems was akin to, "kicking someone when they are down."


-- with files from Kevin Prokosh

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 5, 2013 B5

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