July 20th, 2024

Businessman gets conditional sentence

By Delon Shurtz - Lethbridge Herald on March 13, 2024.

LETHBRIDGE HERALDdshurtz@lethbridgeherald.com

A Lethbridge businessman who was charged with numerous fraud-related offences and was set to stand trial last January before it was cancelled, has pleaded guilty to a fraction of the charges and won’t have to go to jail.

Grant Stevenson, 41, pleaded guilty Tuesday in Lethbridge court of justice to a single count of unlawfully using credit card data and two counts of uttering a forged document. Instead of actual jail, he was given an 18-month conditional sentence, the first half of which he will be under 24-hour house arrest, followed by nine months of curfew every day between 8 p.m. and 7 a.m.

Crown Prosecutor Clayton Giles acknowledged the sentence is on the low end of the sentencing scale, but pointed out there would have been considerable “evidentiary hurdles” to overcome had Stevenson not pleaded guilty.

“Had I had to drag him kicking and screaming to a conviction I’d probably be looking for real jail,” Giles said, adding he gave Stevenson significant credit for “falling upon his sword.”

Giles explained Stevenson owned Fisher Diesel in Lethbridge, which provided large-scale services for Diesel engines. Toward the end of 2010 the business began struggling financially, and between July 2019 and Nov. 2021 Stevenson was taking credit card payments for services which weren’t provided.

Giles pointed out, however, that even though the total amount of the fraud was about $200,000 from 29 transactions, the scheme was discovered before customers actually lost any money.

“He used that credit card information through a very unlawful way in an attempt to get money that was never received.”

One of the forgery charges stems from a transaction in which Stevenson offered an employee eight per cent of the company, for which Stevenson was paid $23,000. Documents that showed the employee was part owner, and which were purported to be from Corporate Registries Alberta, were forgeries.

The employee was also out $30,000 because he traded his personal truck for that amount of money in exchange for a work truck that he leased through the company. When the company failed, he lost the truck and his investment.

The second forgery charge stems from a transaction in which a customer paid $20,000 to have his engine rebuilt, but it never was. The customer paid the money on the faith of a third-party invoice from another company which was supposed to do the work.

“As it turns out, that invoice had been forged,” Giles said.

Giles noted Stevenson has a criminal record with three convictions of theft under $5,000 in May 2016, for which he received a 14-month conditional sentence. Stevenson was working for a tire shop in Taber and had taken and sold tires that were intended to be recycled.

Giles said Stevenson may still suffer the consequences of civil actions relating to his offences while he owned Fisher Diesel, and he will likely have to find a new career or new work because people will not trust him.

Lethbridge lawyer Scott Hadford said Stevenson takes responsibility for his actions and chose to plead guilty even though the Crown may have had difficulties proving its case had the matter gone to trial.

“There were triable issues here, as well as risk for both sides,” Hadford said.

Hadford said his client was struggling to make payments at the time of his offences, and he was suffering from addiction to painkillers he took after he broke his ankle. His marriage also began to deteriorate and he was facing bankruptcy.

“His life’s spiralling out of control. Everything is falling apart.”

Hadford noted, however, Stevenson’s circumstances have since improved.

“He’s on a path. We’re sober, we’re employed…we’re in a stable relationship. It’s almost the opposite of what was going on when things started to fall apart.”

Justice Derek Redman accepted the recommendation for a conditional sentence, and gave Stevenson credit for his guilty pleas, acceptance of responsibility and his remorse. But he told him there is no excuse for his conduct, and the court does not condone his actions or believe it’s Ok to commit fraud or steal any time someone gets in financial difficulty.

“You had a high degree of responsibility,” Redman said. “This wasn’t an action that you took one afternoon just on a lark. This is something that must have been, to a large degree, premeditated, planned, and, to a degree, covered up. This wasn’t just one attempt, this was multiple attempts over an extended period of times, and you knew better.”

As part of his 18-month sentence, Stevenson must be assessed and take financial counselling and counselling for life skills. He must reside at a specific address on the westside, remain in Alberta, attend court when required, and not have any contact or communication with several named individuals.

Redman also issued a compensation order in the amount of $10,254 for the customer who was charged for an engine rebuild, and a compensation order of $53,000 for the employee who was defrauded.

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