She was a "highly regarded" leader of the Manitoba labour movement.
But the same trust that allowed Heather Grant-Jury to assume the mantle of training centre director for the United Food and Commercial Workers Union was what allowed her to steal more than $130,000 from the union over the course of nearly four years, a judge said Thursday before sentencing her to 15 months in jail.
"It’s never easy to see someone so highly regarded in the community have such a fall from grace," provincial court Judge Ryan Rolston said.
"The court must send a message to you that your behaviour is unacceptable and to society that people in power cannot steal from the public purse."
Grant-Jury, 57, also served as then-NDP premier Greg Selinger’s principal secretary from October 2014 to March 2015, after she was seconded from the union. Her appointment came after five cabinet ministers staged a revolt.
Grant-Jury cried as she hugged and said goodbye to a line of family members and supporters, including Asper Foundation president Gail Asper, before being taken out of court by sheriff’s officers.
Grant-Jury was director of the UFCW’s training centre between May 2011 and December 2015 when she filed over 350 fraudulent expense claims, spending the money on groceries, gift cards, liquor, gardening supplies and other non-essentials.
She blamed her actions on a gambling addiction.
Rolston said he viewed Grant-Jury’s gambling addiction as a "neutral factor" as there was no evidence before him that it was "pathological."
“It’s never easy to see someone so highly regarded in the community have such a fall from grace.” – Provincial court Judge Ryan Rolston
Court has heard Grant-Jury used a union-issued credit card to make personal purchases, then removed the itemized portion from the paper receipts before submitting them to the accounting department with bogus accounting codes.
"The destruction of evidence was integral to her deception, in that she destroyed parts of receipts so no one knew how her employer’s money was spent," Rolston said in a written decision released following the hearing. "Not only did this process make it difficult to detect her theft, there was tremendous cost and manpower expended to complete a forensic audit of her spending."
One of Grant-Jury’s co-workers at the training centre was temporarily suspended when she was falsely implicated in the fraud.
"While no impact statement was received from (the co-worker), the court has no difficulty inferring that (she) would have been subjected to significant embarrassment and humiliation from the collateral damage of Ms. Grant-Jury’s actions," Rolston wrote.
Rolston ordered that Grant-Jury pay $120,000 in outstanding restitution, while acknowledging it "is not a feasible option at this time and will not likely be forthcoming in the near future."
Grant-Jury’s actions caused "significant damage" to the UFCW’s reputation, president Jeff Traeger said outside court, with many employer members negotiating reduced contributions to the training centre.
"We’re putting this behind us and moving forward and doing what we do best, which is helping working people of Manitoba," Traeger said.
Someone once said a journalist is just a reporter in a good suit. Dean Pritchard doesn’t own a good suit. But he knows a good lawsuit.