| Mar 06, 2019

It’s unlikely that members of the Maberly Fair Board will be eating butter tarts any time soon. Or at least they won’t be buying them at the Maberly Bake shop.

In Perth Criminal Court on Monday, May 4, Bonnie Palmer, owner of the shop, pleaded guilty of defrauding the board of $25,194.

In settling the case, Palmer agreed to pay back a portion of those funds, $11,699 and to donate $1,000 to YAK, a youth program in Perth.

Of the $11,699, the Fair board will only receive $1,699, under 7% of the total that they are out. $10,000 will go to the Co-Operators Insurance company, the Fair’s insurer, which provided that amount to the board when they made a claim for the financial loss.

Palmer became the treasurer of the Fair Board in January of 2017. Early in 2018, Perth Septic contacted another board member, and said that they had not been paid for services they provided to the Fair the preceding August.

When the board member went to the bank, they found out both the chequing and petty cash bank accounts had been depleted. After contacting Ms. Palmer and attempting to find out where the money had gone, without success, police were contacted in March of 2018. Charges were laid later in the summer, and the case has been before the Perth court since last September.

In surmising the case, the crown pointed out that of the moneys that were reported missing, up to $15,000 came in the form of cash donations and gate receipts from the fair that had never been deposited, making that money hard to track. The cash settlement in the case was based only on traceable moneys which had been removed from the bank accounts, which is why it was so much less than the amount that actually went missing.

In a joint submission, the Crown and Defence recommended that in addition to paying a total of $11,699 in restitution and a $1,000 donation, moneys that Ms. Palmer’s lawyer, Mr. MacDonald, said he already had in his possession, a 270-day conditional sentence be imposed, followed by an 18-month probationary period.

More detail about the case came out when two victim impact statements were read out in court. Fair Board chair Bill Cameron read an account from Board Secretary Rosetta McCinnis, who recalls that in February of 2017, one month after Palmer became the Treasurer, McCinnis deposited $1,100 in the bank, the proceeds of a highly successful ham and bean supper. They later found out that the very next day, Palmer wrote an $1,100 cheque from that account to herself.

In her victim impact statement, Janet Conlon, who had preceded Palmer as treasurer, said that Palmer’s actions have forced the board and the local community to be more suspicious of newcomers.

“After only a few years in the community, I was given a position of trust by the lifelong community members when I became treasurer. After then extending that trust to Bonnie Palmer and being re-paid in this way, that kind of trust has been broken and the community is not as open as it was.”

Conlon also countered a claim made by Ms. Palmer’s lawyer that the books had been in a state of disrepair when she took over.

“The books were up to date, all remittances had been paid and all the entries had been done when I handed it over to her,” said Conlon.

Palmer was given a chance to address the court. She said “it was a difficult situation all around. I’m sorry for the part I played … I could have done better, I am not a professional book-keeper.”

Judge Wright took issue with that statement.

“You are not in court today because of an allegation of book-keeping impropriety, you do understand that? You have pled guilty to a criminal offence … these types of offences are extremely harmful. This was not a large corporation. Not for profit, community organisations depend on public support, and the public is not as likely to support them in cases where the money that is donated has been stolen,” he said.

Despite any misgivings he may have had about the disposition of the case after hearing the victim impact statements and Bonnie Palmer’s response, the judge accepted the joint submission that had been made earlier on.

He told Palmer that she must remain in her home except for two four-hour periods each week, on Wednesday and Sunday mornings, except for work or medical appointments.

“You must be available in your home or at your place of work whenever police or other officials decide to check, and if you are not, the rest of the sentence will be served in jail. I hope you are clear on that,” he said.

“Good luck, Ms. Palmer,” he concluded, “I hope we don’t see you here again”.

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