Ex-Diavik sorter stole almost $400K worth of stones in biggest theft in NWT history

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An ex-Diavik diamond sorter who pocketed almost $400,000 worth of rough stones in the biggest theft the territory has ever seen will learn his fate next week.

Samson Mkhitaryan, 40, pleaded guilty in November to one count of theft over $5,000.

“All I’m asking is forgiveness,”said Mkhitaryan, clutching a tissue as he stood before Justice Andrew Mahar during a sentencing hearing in NWT Supreme Court on Monday. Over a half a dozen family members, friends and supporters – some wiping away tears – backed Mkhitaryan in the Yellowknife courtroom.

Mkhitaryan, who worked at Diavik’s product splitting facility located near the Yellowknife airport, stole 29 uncut stones on several occasions between November 2017 and February 2018, according to an agreed statement of facts.

Mkhitaryan, the court heard, was tasked with sorting and processing rough diamonds at the plant – where he earned a yearly salary of more than $100,000. At any given time, Mkhitaryan was responsible for $17 million – 200,000 carats – worth of uncut diamonds.

On seven different occasions – three times in December 2017; twice in January 2017 and twice in February of last year – Mkhitaryan slipped pricey stones into his pocket while on the job. He substituted the stolen uncut diamonds with rocks that had a similar weight and colour, often pulling out his cellphone at the same time he pocketed the stones to avoid detection in the highly monitored and tightly secured sorting area. Mkhitaryan would then take the rough diamonds in a washroom before exiting the facility with the valuables “on his person,” said prosecutor Martine Sirois.

Sirois told reporters the Crown is unsure how Mkhitaryan left the premises with the diamonds in his possession.

An RCMP probe was launched after staff suspected Mkhitaryan of swiping stones, and he was arrested on Feb. 28, 2018. Mounties, the court heard, initially couldn’t find the stones after executing a search warrant at the ex-Diavik employee’s home.

Uncut diamonds stashed in boiler room

It wasn’t until Mkhitaryan, who confessed to the thefts and cooperated with police even before his arrest, drew RCMP a map to where he’d hidden the uncut stones that members were able to find the stolen goods.

Hidden between two pipes in a boiler room in Mkhitaryan’s garage were 29 uncut diamonds — worth over $393,000.

“That’s not who I am,” said Mkhitaryan, turning to face two Diavik Diamond Mines Inc. representatives who sat in the courtroom.

Crown prosecutor Martine Sirois said Mkhitaryan’s actions negatively affected the morale of his former colleagues – who were questioned as part of the investigation – as well as the reputation and bottom-line of his former employer, Diavik Diamond Mines Inc.

Tasked with handling “extremely expensive,” product, Sirois said Mkhitaryan committed a breach of trust when he stole the uncut diamonds – an act that required forethought and deliberation.

“This is not a spur of the moment (decision),” said Sirois, noting Mkhitaryan would have had to select – and bring in – rocks that weighed and looked like uncut diamonds on seven separate occasions.

Mkhitaryan has no prior criminal convictions, but Sirois noted it’s not uncommon for perpetrators of white collar crimes to have a spotless record before being caught.

Sirois, who recognized Mkhitaryan’s sincere remorse, called for a sentence of two to two-and-half years.

The offender’s lawyer, Peter Harte, asked Mahar to consider a sentence of 18-months in custody, given the circumstances of what he called a “very sad case.”

An immigrant from Armenia, Harte said Mkhitaryan was left stressed and in debt after feeling morally obligated to send money he didn’t have to his ailing parents back home.

Mkhitaryan maxed out multiple lines of credit, and resorted to stealing the diamonds as a means of supporting his family, said Harte. He said Mkhitaryan planned to send the profits of the stolen stones to his family but didn’t know how to “get them to market.”

Instead, they stayed stashed in a single plastic bag in his garage.

Harte said his client was “shocked” to learn the real value of the uncut diamonds – he thought they were worth around $80,000.

At the time of his arrest, Mkhitaryan was working three jobs, often putting in overtime, said Harte.

Sirois, who noted Mkhitaryan’s combined income was over $170,000 – more than the average family – said any financial burdens he experienced were the result of his own choices.

‘Never seen a case like this’

Mahar, citing the need to balance the gravity of the “extremely serious offence,” with the “extremely sympathetic circumstances,”of Mkhitaryan, reserved his decision.

“In some 27 odd years … I’ve never seen a case like this,” said Mahar.

Mkhitaryan, who is not in custody, is due to be sentenced on Feb. 6.

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As the Yellowknifer’s crime reporter, it’s my job to keep readers up to speed on all-things “cops and courts” related. From house fires and homicides to courtroom clashes, it’s my responsibility to be there - day or night, rain or shine. When I’m not at court gathering stories, I’m in the office, making calls to lawyers, emailing RCMP and tracking down sources. After hours, I rely on the public to let me know what’s happening and where. Entering my second winter in Yellowknife since leaving my hometown of Peterborough, Ont., in October 2017, everyday on this beat continues to be challenging, rewarding and fulfilling. Got a story? Call me at (867) 766-8288 or shoot me an email at editorial@nnsl.com.

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