Bookkeeper gets jail time after stealing $2.2 million from B.C. company

Actual amount might be even higher, prosecution hints

A bookkeeper and office administrator for a Langley plastic bottle and container manufacturer stole at least $2.2 million from her employer over the course of nearly a dozen years, a B.C. Supreme Court judge has ruled.

Grace Angela Palmer, 45, was sentenced to four-and-a-half years by Justice Murray B. Blok during an appearance in a New Westminster courtroom.

A transcript of the Feb. 22 hearing, published online, shows the company, Vision Plastics Inc. was alerted to accounting discrepancies during the course of some union negotiations at the business, which has 50 employees.

By checking Palmer’s records with an outside payroll company, the managers discovered she had altered her records to shift money into her personal bank account and redirected money to other parties including “her husband, her mother and her brother, or companies associated with them,” judge Block said.

She stole so much, the company lost money some years when it should have been in black.

“The company’s financial statements showed losses in each year from 2005 to 2012. Adding back the amounts (net of tax) taken by Ms. Palmer changes those results such that some years show a profit,” the judge said.

When suspicions were raised, Palmer hired a document shredding company to destroy paper records for almost two weeks before her employment was suspended. She was fired two weeks later.

Some of the shredded papers were later determined to be payroll documents.

The prosecutor indicated the total amount stolen might be more than the $2.2 million estimate because Palmer started working at Vision in 1996 but the records of the outside payroll service only go back to 2001 and bank records were only available from 2005.

READ ALSO: Controversial Langley condo developer fights extradition on U.S. fraud charge

In his victim impact statement, company founder Tom Simmons wrote of his profound sense of betrayal and said he had “countless sleepless nights.”

He also said the financial struggles of the company delayed his plans for retirement, and it meant another employee, the general manager of the company, had to take on an overwhelming workload.

Court was told that Palmer, a Langley resident, had no criminal history, no prior psychiatric history, and has never had any psychological treatment before the thefts were uncovered.

In June 2013, the judgment states Palmer attempted suicide by drinking antifreeze. She was hospitalized for six days.

Palmer pleaded guilty to one count of fraud over $5,000, and in court, apologized to Simmons and to Vision Plastics and said she deeply regrets her actions and the pain she has caused.

It is not clear where all the money went, the court was told.

“Some went to support a failing business run by her brother and a lot went into personal purchases,” the judge noted.

“It was not spent on such things as addictions or gambling. The upshot, however, is that all the money is gone.”

The judge sentenced Palmer to four-and-a-half years in jail, citing as aggravating factors “ the number of fraudulent transactions carried out and the deliberate and at least moderately complex steps needed both to carry them out and to conceal them,” the fact she took steps to destroy records and the betrayal of trust.

As well, Blok cited “the absence of any attempt at restitution or any reasonable explanation about where the monies went.

“It is also not clear to me that Ms. Palmer is genuinely remorseful for her criminal actions” the judge said.

“What stands out in this case is the magnitude of the sums taken, the sheer volume of fraudulent transactions, and the extraordinary length of time over which Ms. Palmer misappropriated funds belonging to her employer. And all of that motivated by greed.”

In addition to her jail sentence of four and a half years, Palmer was ordered to repay the stolen money.

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