Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION
Phoenix Sinclair welfare sting
This is the extended version: due to space constraints, the ‘dead tree’ version in Saturday’s Free Press had to be cut short.
IT took two government welfare investigators less than a day to realize Phoenix Sinclair was nowhere to be found, and put an abrupt end to a hastily-planned ruse by the girl’s mother and boyfriend to allegedly keep collecting benefits for her after her death.
Edward Mann, a former Winnipeg police officer who retired after 31 years and took a job with as an investigator for the province eight years ago testified Friday that he was contacted by RCMP on the morning March 9, 2006 to assist in locating Phoenix.
Mann supplied welfare documents as evidence indicating that her care givers - Samantha Kematch and Karl McKay - signed their last welfare agreement listing Phoenix as a dependent on Nov. 20, 2005, almost six months after police allege she died.
Continuing to collect welfare for the five-year-old netted Kematch and McKay about $90 a month and a small rent allowance, Mann told court.
Mann said by 9:45 a.m., they went to Kematch and McKay’s apartment on McGee Street in Winnipeg and didn’t find the little girl there. Mann testified that Kematch told him that the little girl was visiting her aunt at a Manitoba Housing block in the North End, but couldn’t name the exact address.
Mann and his partner left the apartment and went to the block Kematch said the little girl was at, but couldn’t locate her there. After phoning Kematch, she asked the investigators for half an hour to locate the aunt. Mann told court he offered the woman a taxi to come and show them where Phoenix was staying.
At 11:45 a.m., Kematch called Mann, saying the aunt had contacted her by phone and was out shopping with the little girl. Mann testified that he met with RCMP until about 2:20 when he called Kematch and McKay’s apartment and got the answering machine.
Five minutes later, Mann said, McKay phoned him back and said Kematch went downtown. The investigators went back to the apartment and spoke to McKay who said the woman was still downtown. At 3:40 p.m. they received a call from a private number. It was Kematch, and arrangements were made to meet her with Phoenix at the Portage Place mall.
After arriving there, Mann said he and his partner were approached by Kematch who was holding hands with a small girl. A woman walking with them was identified as Phoenix’s aunt. But something seemed wrong, Mann’s testimony suggested. The child seemed younger than five years old.
"It appeared (Kematch) was trying to keep the child away from me," he said. The little girl shook her head no when asked if she was Phoenix, Mann added. When he queried Kematch, she said it was indeed Phoenix.
Police arrived and after a time the other woman identified herself as Stephanie Roulette, and the little girl her three-year-old daughter, court heard. Kematch was then taken into custody by the officers.
Roulette was the next witness called to the stand Friday, and identified herself as McKay’s niece. She testified that McKay had tried to contact her "a few" times that day, and, after getting on the phone with him would a request to bring her daughter over to his apartment for a visit. Roulette said even though McKay was her "favorite uncle," they weren’t necessarily close and didn’t see each other that often.
A few minutes after arriving, however, Roulette said Kematch asked "for my daughter to act as if she was Phoenix."
Kematch allegedly told her she would lose the welfare money if investigators discovered the little girl was actually living in Ontario with her dad. She thought she was trying to help.
Roulette testified through tears that while with her daughter and Keematch in the car, she kept asking the little girl "can you say that you’re five years old…can you say that you’re Phoenix?"
[Looking over at the prisoner’s box at this point, McKay is wiping away tears. Kematch is staring straight ahead, a placid look on her face.]
After being queried by police and investigators at the mall, the little girl is reported to have called Roulette "mommy." She said she then told the attending RCMP officers who she really was.
After Kematch was arrested, Roulette said that McKay called her, crying, and wondering where Kematch was. "I recall him saying he was scared because they were going to take the kids away," Roulette said. She said she couldn’t tell McKay where Kematch had been taken.
She gave a statement to police not long after, court heard. Kematch’s defense lawyer Roberta Campbell argued there were inconsistencies between her statement and Friday’s testimony. McKay’s lawyer Mike Cook said it appeared the "little acting job" that took place was concocted entirely by Kematch.
"At the end of the day, it was Ms. Kematch talking to your daughter trying to get (her) to pretend she was Phoenix," Cook said.
Other facts came out during Cook’s cross-examination of Roulette, such as:
McKay and Kematch moved to Fisher River in 2005 so he could care for McKay’s ailing grandfather.
While there, McKay was the communities school bus driver.
In Cook’s pressing of Roulette to open up suggestions that it was Kematch acting alone to get the little girl to tell "two big lies" at the mall, it came out that Roulette had had a prior conversation with Kematch who said Phoenix was "so bad." McKay was not present for that conversation.
Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories? Please use the form below and let us know.
Ads by Google