The owner of a reputable local contracting business described the shock and anxiety he felt after finding out one of his longtime employees had defrauded him of tens of thousands of dollars.
"I found out the hard way the adverse effects of placing too much trust in someone," Michael Whalen wrote in his victim impact statement that was presented in provincial court in St. John's Monday.
"My trust in people has been permanently tarnished."
As Crown prosecutor Allison Doyle read the letter, Leah Chaulk sat quietly in the prisoner's seat, staring at the floor, her face practically covered by her hair during her sentencing hearing.
Chaulk admitted she swindled more than $70,000 over a 13-year period from Whalen's company, Backyard Contractors, where she had worked from 2001 to 2016 as a receptionist. Her duties included managing accounts payable and receivable, payroll, banking, filing and other tasks.
The 46-year-old, of Kilbride, had pleaded guilty to two counts of fraud over $5,000 in connection with the misappropriation of money. As a result, a forgery charge against her was withdrawn, as was a fraud charge against her husband, Doug, 48.
Chaulk admitted she used a company credit card and gas cards to pay for personal items – including an iPhone, a snowblower, a generator, dental care and purchases at Mile One Centre, Kent, Newfoundland and Labrador Liquor Corp. and St. John’s Minor Hockey, among others — and allowed Doug to use the cards as well. She also over-collected her vacation pay from the business by failing to deduct pay for vacation time she had taken.
Whalen said when he discovered what Chaulk had done, he didn't initially tell his family about it to spare them the worry.
"I carried the burden of this on my shoulders for months," said Whalen, who added he lost sleep over it.
"Emotionally and financially, I will feel the effects of this for years to come."
Doyle and Chaulk's lawyer, Jon Noonan, presented a joint submission on sentencing to Judge Colin Flynn. Both agreed that a 16-month conditional sentence, served in the community, with a restitution order to pay back all the money to Whalen, was an appropriate sentence.
Noonan pointed out that under current legislation, as of November 2012, conditional sentences are no longer available for such fraud over $5,000 convictions, but he said there was no evidence presented in the case to suggest Chaulk misappropriated more than $5,000 after that date.
Noonan said Chaulk is a first-time offender and has been an active volunteer in the community with the Heart and Stroke Foundation since her son suffered a stroke at the age of 15. He said Chaulk has suffered a great deal of stress as a result of the charges laid against her and the media attention.
Doyle was quick to point out that Whalen, too, has been hugely affected by what Chaulk did. However, she said Chaulk did plead guilty and has accepted responsibility for her actions.
Flynn will render his decision on sentencing on Thursday, but said he will likely accept the lawyers' agreed suggestion.