Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Woman jailed after targeting elderly victims for theft

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BRANDON -- A former home-care worker says it was a cocaine addiction that launched her into a crime spree in which she preyed on elderly victims.

The victims let Debbie Ann Smith into their homes when she asked for directions and to use the washroom. She left with their purses and wallets.

"These are women who let her in. They opened up their hearts and their homes to Ms. Smith... to help someone out, and she violated that trust," Crown attorney Ron Toews said as Smith was sentenced to jail this week.

Smith was arrested in September 2013 following a crime spree in which she talked her way into homes in Russell, Foxwarren and St. Lazare and left with purses or their contents.

After being arrested, she was released on bail only to commit purse- snatchings in Brandon.

The case came to an end Monday when the 51-year-old was sentenced for 16 charges for the Russell-area incidents -- 12 for break, enter and theft, three for break and enter with intent to commit a crime, and one theft charge.

Those crimes -- committed between Aug. 1, 2013, and Sept. 22, 2013 -- count as break and enters even though Smith would trick residents into letting her in.

RCMP said several of the 16 victims were elderly.

At the time, Smith was a homecare worker from Binscarth who had worked in that field for more than 10 years. Court documents suggest she worked for Prairie Mountain Health, but the health authority wouldn't confirm or deny that Wednesday.

Smith told police she looked for homes that appeared as though they had older people living in them. She would leave if she found young people living there.

At least a couple of the victims in the Russell-area crimes for which she was convicted had received home care. The reports suggest Smith used her employment to target at least two of them.

On other occasions, Smith used a ruse to get into the home. More than once, for example, she knocked on the door and asked for directions and then asked to use the washroom.

Smith was out on bail when she was identified as the suspect in a series of four purse-snatchings and two attempted purse-snatchings committed in Brandon between Nov. 29 and Jan. 4.

In five cases, women had their purses grabbed in the parking lots of Brandon stores. Three of the victims were elderly -- aged 67, 73 and 78 years.

Smith, however, only pleaded guilty to three of these incidents.

Smith was arrested at a Brandon home on Jan. 7 and has been in custody since. She told authorities cocaine addiction was her motive. Her hours at work had been cut and she couldn't afford the cocaine or her anti-depressant medication.

Smith -- who suffered abuse growing up, and whose childhood home was filled with violence -- said cocaine made her feel happy and fearless.

Judge John Combs gave Smith pre-sentence custody credit by sentencing her to time served of 81/2 months for the Russell-area incidents.

He then sent Smith to jail for another year for the Brandon incidents, to be followed by two years of probation.

-- Brandon Sun

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 7, 2014 A5

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