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Nicole McKinnon sentenced to house arrest for defrauding Corner Brook Downtown Business Association

Former Corner Brook Downtown Business Association executive director Nicole McKinnon enters provincial court in Corner Brook in this file photo.
Former Corner Brook Downtown Business Association executive director Nicole McKinnon enters provincial court in Corner Brook in this file photo. - Gary Kean

Lengthy jail time used to be nearly inevitable for crimes such as those committed by Nicole McKinnon.

But the provincial court judge who has sentenced her to house arrest for defrauding her employer said institutional incarceration almost never happens any more for such egregious breaches of trust.

Judge Wayne Gorman sentenced the former executive director of the Corner Brook Downtown Business Association to 12 months of house arrest Monday morning.

McKinnon had pleaded guilty to defrauding the DBA of more than $63,000 between April and October 2018. The charges included theft, fraud, possession of stolen cheques and breaches of court orders.

The thefts, which involved stealing gas and shoplifting from retail outlets in Corner Brook, and the court order violations took place after McKinnon was arrested earlier this year.

In his written decision on McKinnon’s sentence, Gorman used an example of Hubert Walter Hunt, the former executive vice-president and general manager of Hickman Equipment who was convicted of defrauding his former employer of more than $1 million. In September 2018, Hunt was sentenced in the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador to serve a conditional sentence of one year.

Gorman said McKinnon’s offences were still quite serious and constituted a significant breach of trust. The impact on the DBA, which has not resumed operations since suspending them after realizing its coffers had been emptied last fall, has been devastating.

In a victim impact statement provided to the court, the DBA said it’s 30-year history of beautifying and improving the city’s downtown business district is now in jeopardy because of McKinnon’s actions. The not-for-profit organization, of which McKinnon was the sole paid employee, said its volunteer members have reported feelings of anxiety, stress and other effects on their well-being and mental health as a result of having to contend with the fallout of these offences, while continuing to operate their own businesses.

While the DBA is still uncertain as to whether it will ever resume operations, the statement provided to the court expressed concerns about being able to recruit new members and volunteers in the future if it is revived.

“Ms. McKinnon was someone that we thought of not only as an employee, but

also as a friend,” the statement read. “We valued her contribution to the DBA and trusted her to assist the board in its work. The offences have brought about a sharp feeling of betrayal and a sense of frustration for the loss of a significant amount of funds which could have been used for the betterment of our community.”
McKinnon made an emotional statement to the court last week, explaining she stole the money to feed a drug addiction. She had also told police investigating her crimes that an addiction to cocaine was behind the offences.

Gorman, however, said there was no evidence presented during her sentencing hearing to substantiate these claims. The judge said that, while a drug addiction can be considered a mitigating factor when imposing a sentence, it was impossible to gauge what addiction, if any, McKinnon suffered from or what effect it had, if any, on her criminality.

Gorman ordered that McKinnon must pay back the full amount of $63,557 to the DBA. Her lawyer had asked or there to be no restitution order or, if there was to be one, that it not be the full amount that went missing.

Gorman said there was no evidence presented that anyone else was responsible for the stolen funds. Further, he said there is no reason why McKinnon, 31, would not be gainfully employed sometime in the future and be in a position to start paying the money back to the DBA.

Gorman credited McKinnon with one month of time served for the time she has spent in jail awaiting her sentencing, leaving her 11 months to serve on house arrest.

He opted not to give her any period of probation.

During her conditional sentence, McKinnon will not be permitted to enter any building in which the Corner Brook Downtown Business association is located. She is prohibited from entering either of the stores from which she stole merchandise, including Dominion, Colemans, Lawton’s Drugs and Walmart.

She will also not be permitted to volunteer for a position that involves having authority over real property, money or valuable security in the next five years.

McKinnon still has some outstanding matters before the court. She had entered not guilty pleas to charges of fraud and unauthorized use of credit card data.

She had been set to go to trial on those charges Oct. 25. However, a scheduling conflict with the court has now resulted in that trial being moved to Nov. 6.

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