Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, October 24, 2007
YELLOWKNIFE - A man who stole over $50,000 from the Community Television Society while acting as its treasurer was sentenced Tuesday to 12 months house arrest.
Roy Desjarlais had pleaded guilty to charges of theft over $5,000 and of knowingly using forged documents.
Desjarlais, a former Yk1 school trustee, treasurer of the Canadian Mental Health Association, and vice chair of the Tree of Peace Friendship Centre, stole the money by forging the second signature required on 24 cheques between January 2005 and October 2006.
"This does not reflect a short-term lapse in judgement," said Justice Virginia Schuler during the sentencing. "This is a breach of trust situation. Mr. Desjarlais was in a position to use the money for the society's benefit and goals. He did not do that."
The Community Television Society broadcasted weekly TV bingos, raising money for local production grants and giving scholarships to high school students interested in broadcasting.
According to the agreed statement of facts, as treasurer since the early 1990s, Desjarlais was responsible for paying expenses and banking. Desjarlais shared signing authority with three other people and cheques drawn on the society's account required two signatures.
In April 2005, the society became inactive as it aired its last weekly bingo, although they maintained their status as a non-profit group.
Although the remaining board members resigned, they retained their signing authority.
With the society inactive, in the summer of 2006 Desjarlais cancelled its lease and moved the bingo machine, audio visual equipment, and blank cheques to his home.
He later donated the audio visual equipment to a high school, and donated the bingo equipment to a group in Behchoko.
In October 2006, one of the previous board members heard about the cancellation of the lease and that Desjarlais had moved the equipment to his residence.
Wondering how Desjarlais had paid the moving expenses without board members' authorization, they looked into the society's bank accounts and realized that Desjarlais had been forging the second signature required on cheques.
They discovered that between September 2005 and May 2006, Desjarlais had taken $56,914.89 of the society's funds, without the approval of any board member, by forging signatures.
In October 2006, one of the board members reported the theft to the RCMP.
Defence lawyer Kelly Payne told the court Desjarlais had already paid back $53,593.29 of the funds stolen, leaving $3,321 still owing.
Payne said the fact her client pleaded guilty and paid back 97 percent of the money is evidence of his remorse.
"This matter has caused him a great deal of embarrassment," said Payne in court. "He feels ashamed and wants to withdraw from the community."
Desjarlais read out an apology to his family and the community at large.
"I was trying to do the best I could, but I did it in the wrong way," said Desjarlais.
Last spring, the Community Television Society held an annual general meeting, electing Bob Ellison as president. Ellison said that with a significant amount of money still in the society's account, they are looking into setting up a scholarship as they had before.
"It's a mess, but we want to get going again," said Ellison.