One year in jail for Kamloops grandmother who bilked grieving employer for $11K

'Predatory' fraudster jailed

A “predatory” Kamloops fraudster who bilked her employer for $11,000 to pay for concert tickets, weekend getaways and electronics has been sent to prison.

Michele Huston, a 50-year-old grandmother, was sentenced Wednesday to 12 months in jail and a further three years of probation after earlier pleading guilty to charges of fraud over $5,000 and theft over $5,000.

Huston spent four months working as bookkeeper for Kamloops Heating and Air Conditioning, during which time she stole or fraudulently spent $11,000 of company money. She was fired in January of 2020 after her coworkers confronted her with a number of suspicious transactions. The extent of the fraud was discovered in the weeks that followed, after an audit and further investigation by Huston’s replacement.

Court heard Huston spent the money on a number of personal items, including concert tickets, a weekend getaway to Sun Peaks, an iPad, a Roomba vacuum, an Xbox and her daughter’s cellphone bill. She also used company funds to cover expenses for Sim’ya Ukrainian Dancers, a youth dance group she organized, and to pay rental fees to School District 73 and a deposit for a bus charter — both for the dance group.

At the time of the offences, the owners of Kamloops Heating and Air Conditioning were grieving the death of one of the company’s owners.

Crown prosecutor Leah Winters and defence lawyer Joe Killoran suggested a joint submission in June that would have seen Huston avoid jail. The deal included house arrest for nearly two years plus three years of probation.

But Kamloops provincial court Judge Stella Frame didn’t like the proposal, especially given Huston’s criminal record. She has twice been convicted for similar offences — fraud in 2009 and theft in 2010 — and both times she avoided jail.

“Ms. Huston clearly has not learned from her mistakes in the past,” the judge said Wednesday, describing her as a “predatory” fraudster who “took advantage” of a grieving family’s vulnerabilities.

Frame sentenced Huston to a year in jail and imposed probation conditions that will prohibit her from working or volunteering in a position that puts her in control of a company or organization’s money. She will also be required to tell her employers about her criminal history and pay more than $7,100 in restitution to Kamloops Heating and Air Conditioning, to cover the amount they were out after recouping what they could.

Two company representatives were in the courtroom Wednesday for the sentencing hearing. They exchanged a subtle fist bump as a deputy sheriff placed Huston in handcuffs and led her away.

“To see that the judge overruled the deal, which was so extremely disappointing, justice prevailed,” Shannon Moore, the replacement bookkeeper who investigated Huston’s actions, told Castanet Kamloops outside the courtroom. “Today is a happy day.”

David Dalgleish, the company’s general manager, said he’s happy with the outcome but he’s not holding his breath when it comes to seeing the $7,126.47 in restitution, which Huston has two years to pay.

“This is a good outcome, this is a good day,” he said. “The fact that she has to pay back the $7,000 is great, but I don’t know how that’s going to happen.”

Killoran said he couldn’t comment when asked whether Huston plans to appeal.

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