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July 29, 2009 permalink
Almost buried inside this story is that fact that Sylvie Cooper, who stole gifts from Santa Fund baskets in North Bay Ontario, was herself a foster parent.
Santa's helpers sentenced to house arrest
Posted By DAVE DALE, THE NUGGET, Updated July 29, 2009 hours ago
Two women who stole Christmas vouchers and presents from Santa Fund baskets they volunteered to deliver in 2008 will serve six months house arrest and perform 60 hours of community service.
Katherine Trahan-Lachance, 34, and Sylvie Cooper, 38, pleaded guilty Tuesday to theft, uttering a forged document and possessing stolen property.
Ontario Court Justice Jean-Gilles Lebel said this kind of breach of trust calls for jail time, but he took into account the time and expense saved by their guilty pleas, while also noting they showed remorse and had otherwise clean records.
To say this cries out for a term of imprisonment is being trite," said Lebel, adding there's no clearer example of breaching the public's trust.
Lebel told the women the victims of their crime include the Santa Fund organizers, the families who depend on the baskets, those who donate to the popular charity and their own family members facing chastisement.
The judge said the house arrest conditions include abstaining from alcohol or drugs not prescribed by a doctor, and only leaving their home for medical, employment or educational reasons, as well as the needs of their children.
He said they will be sent to jail if they break the conditions.
Crown attorney Paul Larsh told the court Cooper and Trahan-Lachance split up the vouchers and coupons they took from sealed envelopes included with baskets of food and presents.
One basket, Larsh said, was also not delivered at all, leaving the mother of two children who was expecting it to wait the entire day for the delivery before calling organizers to ask if it was en route.
Trahan-Lachance and Cooper forged a delivery report stating this person received the basket, while getting nine other recipients to sign a document that said they received everything despite the missing vouchers.
The total value of the gifts, food and vouchers taken was $622, Larsh said, adding that Cooper tried to redeem some of the coupons at Zellers while Trahan-Lachance gave some of the presents to her own children.
This conduct is just so wrong on so many levels," Larsh said, describing how people who donate to the charity may feel less inclined to do so and recipients, already humbled by their needs, may not want to be involved.
Larsh said he hopes the pair are ashamed of their actions and suggested the court needs to send a message that this type of behaviour is not tolerated."
Defence counsel for the pair outlined how sorry their clients were for their actions, and agreed the crime calls for a punishment befitting general deterrence," but asked for house arrest of 60 to 90 days.
Cooper's lawyer, Jim Maher, said the mother and foster parent had volunteered to deliver baskets for the past four years.
Killian May, lawyer for Trahan-Lachance, said she is a mother of four who has earned diplomas and academic certificates since graduating high school.
May said she didn't try to spend the Zellers gift certificates worth $30 each and cut them up after admitting her criminal deed to her husband.
He said her family was strapped for cash" prior to
Christmas 2008 and likely would have received a Santa Fund basket herself had she asked for one.
This stigma will stay with her indefinitely . . . frankly, she won't be trusted now,"May said, telling the court there were death threats against her made on the Internet following reports of the criminal charges.
Lachlan McLachlan, co-chairman of the Santa Fund, said the length or type of punishment imposed by the court wasn't as vital as the public knowing this issue was dealt with by the justice system.
I'm certainly glad they were brought in front of the court and the judge explained the consequences of their actions," McLachlan said, adding it was a very disturbing" incident. It's not so much the penalty, it's having them realize this is not acceptable in our society . . . It's just good to know it's over," he said, extending appreciation to police for a speedy investigation.
The Santa Fund organizers were told of the missing vouchers on the evening they were delivered Dec. 23, allowing them to cancel them at Zellers.
Cooper tried to cash some Dec. 26, court was told, but they were already flagged by the identification system used.
The 10 Santa Fund recipients affected by this crime received everything they were supposed to get and the stolen items were recovered.
McLachlan said Santa Fund recipients will now receive their envelope of gift vouchers prior to the baskets being delivered so they can do their shopping well before Christmas.
Source: North Bay Nugget