A former official with the Tlicho Community Services Agency stole more than $120,000 from the organization over a two year period in order to pay for his gambling, a Yellowknife court heard Wednesday.
Joseph Charles Beaverho, 64, pleaded guilty to a single count of breach of trust by an officer in April.
From 2005 to 2012, Beaverho acted as program officer for the Tlicho Scholarship Program, which is delivered by the Tlicho Community Services Agency and funded by the Tlicho Government.
The scholarship program was intended to aid Tlicho citizens attending post-secondary educational institutions across Canada. Funding came in the form of direct payments to colleges and universities on students’ behalf, in addition to funds for upcoming schooling expenses and reimbursements.
Between April 2010 and February 2012, while employed as a program officer, Beaverho fraudulently converted scholarship cheques in the amount of $120, 721.24 from the Tlicho Community Services Agency, according to an agreed statement of facts read in court.
As a program officer, Beaverho was responsible for authorizing and preparing cheque requests, delivering cheques to scholarship recipients in person, via mail or by depositing them in bank accounts.
In October of 2012, a former recipient of the Tlicho Scholarship Program contacted the Tlicho Community Services Agency after the Canada Revenue Agency flagged almost $2,000 in unreported income based on Tlicho Scholarship Program payments under her name.
The complaint triggered a review by Tlicho Community Services Agency officials, who found irregularities in payments made by the Tlicho Scholarship Program under the woman’s name.
An investigation was soon launched by the GNWT’s Internal Audit Bureau (IAB), and the Tlicho Scholarship Program was audited, placing Beaverho at the centre of the probe.
Beaverho, it was revealed, fraudulently deposited $39,000 worth of scholarship cheques, along with another 46 fraudulently deposited reimbursement cheques worth an additional $81,621.24 into his account at Behchoko’s Northern Store.
A forensic analysis on Beaverho’s computer, the court heard, revealed he’d created a fake university invoice in order to request a reimbursement cheque.
In January 2013, Beaverho confessed to stealing from the scholarship program to cover gambling debts after being interviewed by IAB officials.
In a second meeting, he admitted that “if students did not receive payments it was probably because he had used the money to pay for his gambling,” states the agreed upon facts.
He said the loss to the Tlicho Community Services Agency and the GNWT was at least $100,000. The IAB’s audit was turned over to RCMP in May 2013, but Beaverho wasn’t charged until January of this year – nearly six years later.
In NWT territorial court on Wednesday, during a sentencing hearing for Beaverho, Judge Donovan Molloy questioned the delay.
Judge questions why Beaverho wasn’t charged sooner
“So, basically (RCMP) got a gift box with an audit and a confession and it took them six years to lay a charge?” asked Molloy.
Prosecutor Trevor Johnson said there is no indication as to why it took so long.
RCMP spokesperson Marie York-Condon told Yellowknifer in an email financial crime investigations are often complex and require investigators to review large amounts of documents and data, leading to a lengthy process.
“This investigation was put on hold on several occasions due to emerging or higher priority investigations taking precedence. That said, even when an investigation remains in the investigative phase, we strive to ensure the best possible evidence is obtained to present to the court,” stated York-Condon.
Despite the large sum of money that was stolen and the possibility that there are many more victims than the one known complainant – the woman who prompted the initial audit – Johnson joined Beaverho’s lawyer, Jay Bran, in a joint sentencing recommendation of two years house arrest.
“This is someone who is dealing with a lot of trauma,” said Bran, pointing to the “very clear” Gladue factors present in Beaverho’s background – some that “leap off the page,” of a prepared pre-sentence report.
Bran noted Beaverho has an otherwise clean criminal record, and reminded the court his client cooperated “very quickly” when he was first audited.
None of the pilfered money has been repaid.
It’s been “incredibly difficult” for Beaverho to find meaningful in Behchoko – a small community where word travels quickly – following the revelations of his actions. Bran said his client simply doesn’t have the means to pay back the funds.
‘I regret what I’ve done’
“I’m willing to help my community in any way,” said Beaverho, standing to apologize for the “serious crime,” he committed.
“I regret what I’ve done,” said Beaverho, adding he’s endeavouring to seek treatment for his gambling problem.
Molloy adjourned his decision to Friday morning, but indicated he will be accepting the conditional sentence of house arrest.