TWO men who ripped off close to $1 million from two West Vancouver-based aboriginal organizations have been sent to jail.
B.C. Supreme Court Associate Chief Justice Austin Cullen handed a two-year sentence to Craig Ashley Morrison, 34, while his cousin Dennis James Wells, 56, was sent to jail for 18 months on Wednesday for defrauding the Aboriginal Council and the Aboriginal Fisheries Commission.
The scheme was carried out over a three-year-period, between 2002 and 2005, while Morrison worked as a bookkeeper for the two organizations.
Morrison used his position as a trusted employee to divert more than $911,000 of the organizations’ government funding to Wells’ bank account. Some of the money was diverted through direct transfers, while other sums came through cheques with forged signatures. Wells then funnelled half of the cash back to Morrison.
Morrison created false invoices for researchers and consultants in order to balance the books. In total there were 199 fraudulent transfers.
Nobody else who worked at the organizations — which helped native bands research land claims and advocate for fisheries rights — knew the money was being diverted until after Morrison was laid off.
A number of emails sent by Morrison to Wells were discovered in Morrison’s work computer — including one with the subject line “moola” — detailing the bank transfers and how the money was to be split between the two men.
Later investigation by police showed the emails and amounts discussed corresponded to bank transfers that had deposited money into Wells’ account.
The federal government eventually cut off funding and both organizations collapsed.
Crown prosecutor Brian McKinley told the judge the thefts destroyed the two organizations, which had served their communities for 30 years. He asked for jail sentences of between three and five years for the two men. “This is a significant fraud involving a lot of money,” he said.
Lawyers for the two men asked the judge to consider conditional sentences, noting their aboriginal heritage and that the offences were not violent.
Wells’ lawyer Patrick Angly said most of the money was blown on drinking and gambling sprees at casinos. “It’s hard to comprehend the amount of money they went through,” he said, adding his client “always knew he was going to get caught in the back of his own mind.”
Both men apologized in court before they were sentenced.
“I’ve been disgusted with the way I acted,” said Wells. “I had no intentions of going this far. I’m sorry for all the people I hurt.”
Morrison said he’s been taking part in a native counselling process that has helped him face responsibility for his actions. “One thing I’ve come to realize is what it means to be in a position of trust,” the father of five told the judge. “I betrayed that.”