By Delon Shurtz - Lethbridge Herald on February 8, 2024.
A city woman who was set to stand trial for three weeks in May for defrauding the University of Lethbridge of thousands of dollars, has been placed on house arrest.
Donna Court, whose trial in Lethbridge Court of King’s bench was cancelled, pleaded guilty last month to one count of fraud over $5,000, and received a two-year conditional sentence order (CSO), which placed her on house arrest for one year, followed by one year of curfew.
Court had initially been charged with fraud over $5,000, theft over $5,000 and possession of stolen property over $5,000, and although police initially reported in April 2021 following her arrest that more than $500,000 had been taken from the U of L, the actual amount is unclear.
“The university has not been able to definitively determine the exact amount of cash that was defalcated by Ms. Court,” says an agreed statement of facts (ASF) that was presented to the judge on Jan. 19.
“In the spring of 2018, Ms. Court’s supervisor determined that some cash was missing,” the ASF states.
“Ms. Court removed cash and manipulated the reconciliations. Her employment was put on leave on April 4, 2018 and she was terminated for cause on April 19, 2018.”
Court, who was interviewed by the university before her termination, was unable to provide a “reasonable” explanation for the transactions that occurred. In her statement to police, she admitted she defrauded the university by manipulating reconciliations relating to revenue from the recreation centre and the book store, but she was unable to provide a figure for how much money she had taken.
“The police interviewed Ms. Court and she admitted that she had lost her way and she was gambling,” states the ASF. “Ms. Court admitted that eventually she was in too deep and did not know how to get out.”
Court admitted that she defrauded the university of at least $10,000 in cash.
“Ms. Court felt deeply sorry for betraying her supervisor’s trust, and she did not intend to hurt anyone.”
In addition to the CSO, Court was fined $10,000 in lieu of forfeiture, and she was ordered to make restitution to the university in the amount of $10,000. She is prohibited for life from having authority over the money and property of other persons in any capacity, including as an employee or volunteer. She is also, in addition to other conditions, prohibited from going to any casino or place that has video lottery terminals or any other type of gambling or betting.
“A key duty of a Crown prosecutor is to carefully and thoroughly assess all aspects of the evidence at every stage of a prosecution to determine the viability of charges and to make sentencing recommendations,” the Alberta Crown Prosecution Service said in a statement to the Herald. “Crown prosecutors evaluate the evidence in light of the prosecution standard: there is a reasonable likelihood of conviction and the matter is in the public interest to prosecute. If at any time following the laying of charges the Crown prosecutor becomes aware that the standard for prosecution is not met, the charges may be stayed, withdrawn or downgraded.
The other two charges against Court were withdrawn.