A Vancouver Island bookkeeper who stole roughly $43,500 from three Ucluelet businesses has avoided prison, but will serve nine months’ house arrest for three charges of fraud.
Port Alberni resident Dawn Olson, owner of Rainforest Bookkeeping, was sentenced on June 6, 2022 in Ucluelet provincial court after pleading guilty to three counts of fraud over $5,000. She was sentenced to three concurrent conditional sentences of nine months.
“It’s that breach of trust that this case is all about. When we have an employee, we give them our trust to our businesses, which is ultimately the key to our financial existence,” Judge Alexander Wolf said as he delivered his ruling.
“You will be getting a criminal record and if it costs you your bookkeeping maybe that should have been thought of before you made 67 fraudulent transactions,” he said. He added that Olson will have to deal with the stigma and fallout consequences that will come from living in a small community.
From 2018 to 2020, Olson cut herself 67 extra cheques in the $500 to $900 range from her clients Relic Surf Shop, Surfs Inn and a Ucluelet restaurant. Over the span of three years, she issued herself about $10,000 from Relic, $20,000 from Surfs Inn and roughly $13,500 from the restaurant, according to statements read from Crown Prosecutor John Boccabella during the June 6 court proceedings.
Boccabella said the fraud caused Relic and Surfs Inn owners Mike and Nicole Little-Bray a “huge amount of stress,” and that the crime was a “profound breach of trust” as the Little-Brays were employing Olson to be trusted with the business operations. Nicole Little-Bray was also undergoing treatment for cancer at the time.
“(Olson) took my trust and abused it while going through cancer and treatments. I was depressed and my anxiety I was not able to control it on my own. I found out two days before COVID happened that she had drained our bank accounts,” Nicole Little-Bray wrote in a June 3, 2022, Victim Impact Statement. “I was put on Ativan. We have two kids that had to go through a dark and depressed mom. That some days I couldn’t get out of bed.
“We had nothing in our accounts and then the world shut down. I was basically numb from knowing that someone could do this to another person that you have known for 12 plus years. Imagine someone who you trust texting you saying kind words as you’re going into a mastectomy and or radiation, while literally going to the bank and stealing from a family that is already in a trauma situation. It’s beyond just stealing, in my books. Even writing this triggers such high anxiety and emotions,” Nicole Little-Bray wrote.
Olson’s defence counsel Michael Ritzker said during the June 6 sentencing that Olson signed a repayment schedule on April 30, 2020, and has since paid the Little-Brays $44,000, which totals the money she stole plus interest. The restaurant was also repaid in full. Ritzker said Olson sold her Ucluelet home so she could make the repayments.
“At least she tried to do the right thing. Put some real weight on that. You tell me lies, but if you cross my hand with gold, does that make the lie go away? No, but there is more weight in gold,” said Ritzker in his appeal to Judge Wolf.
Olson was permitted to give a final statement during court.
“I lost everything because of my stupidness. I have very few clients. I am so sorry from the bottom of my heart. I wish I could make it go away. It was not intentional to hurt you. My deepest sincere apologies,” said Olson.
Judge Wolf noted that there were mitigating circumstances to the case, one being that Olson pleaded guilty and the other that she repaid the money, but he expressed the danger of saying, “when you pay back money, it keeps you out of jail.”
“That sends the wrong message. We look at people’s behaviour after the time they have been convicted. You’ve tried to make restitution with the harm that you have caused, but I need to balance this with the 67 transactions. It wasn’t just a one time mistake, it was 67 transactions,” said Judge Wolf.
As part of her conditional sentence, Olson must advise her clients that she defrauded past clients while doing their books.