The employee used corporate credit cards to withdraw over $ 600,000 from ATMs in BC casinos
An accountant who cheated on a fishing shack with over $ 740,000 to quench her gambling addiction was sentenced to two years’ conditional imprisonment by a provincial court judge.
Heidimarie Whittaker, 53, of Surrey, was tried in North Vancouver Provincial Court on January 15 after pleading guilty to defrauding Northwest Angling Adventures Ltd., which operated King Pacific Lodge near Hartley Bay 2009 and 2013.
Whittaker broke down and, according to information presented in court, confessed in March 2013 after learning that an audit was going to be conducted and that her activities would likely be found out.
The lodge’s former president Michael Uehara told police Whitaker’s actions were part of what drove the lodge to bankruptcy.
(The assets were later bought by another company, West Sport Fishing Ltd., and the fishing hut is currently back in operation.)
At the time, the King Pacific Lodge, a wilderness fishing lodge built on a large ocean-going vessel, was in operation from May to September when it was towed to Princess Royal Island, 20 miles south of the First Nations community of Hartley Bay. The lodge, which Northwest Angling Adventures Ltd. is aimed at fishermen and wealthy adventure tourists looking to explore the nearby Great Bear Rainforest, home of the Spirit Bear. She was one of the biggest employers for the Hartley Bay community.
The lodge’s annual revenues were between $ 2.4 million and $ 5 million, according to statements read in court.
The fisherman’s cabin had a business office in north Vancouver that Whittaker operated from 2009 to 2013. The cabin had previously been used by Whittaker’s father-in-law’s accounting firm. When the lodge owners decided they needed someone to do the books in-house, the accounting firm suggested Whittaker, who would then “run his North Vancouver office and do all the chores, especially money-related,” so Judge Bryce Dyer.
The employee stole an average of $ 20,000 per month
Uehara later told police that Whitaker was “fully trusted”.
From November 2009 through December 2012, Whitaker used multiple corporate credit cards to make over 1,000 unauthorized prepayments totaling over $ 637,000. She also wrote 18 checks to the parents she lived with, totaling over $ 105,000.
In 38 months, Whittaker stole an average of nearly $ 20,000 a month from her employer, according to the judge.
Whitaker then changed the company accounts to cover their tracks.
Her plan “must have had considerable sophistication, in my opinion, to continue as long as it did without being discovered,” Dyer said.
Records presented in court showed that the majority of fraudulent cash withdrawals were made in seven casinos on the Lower Mainland.
The gambling addiction started with winning the jackpot
According to a report by a psychiatrist, Whittaker’s gambling addiction began sometime between 2007 and 2009 when she won a jackpot for $ 13,000 and “she felt the urge to do it again and she started going there more often.”
She ended up visiting the casinos daily, and although she looked after her children, she was regularly at the casino from 9 p.m. to 2 or 3 a.m., according to the report.
By 2009, Whittaker had already spent vast amounts of her own and her family’s money in casinos. “She kept on playing, however, obviously hoping for the big win, which of course never came,” said Dyer.
Woman signed up for self-exclusion in the casino
After Whittaker made it clear what she’d done, she signed up for the self-exclusion program at BC casinos and began counseling for her gambling addiction. She also worked with the bankruptcy administrator who dealt with her previous employer’s business.
When the judge handed Whittaker a conditional sentence in lieu of actual jail, she said Whittaker’s gambling addiction was an extenuating factor in her actions, despite finding that she had also stolen over $ 100,000 for personal expenses.
The judge sentenced Whittaker to house arrest at her Surrey home, two years less a day when she can continue working from home. She is allowed to leave five hours a week for errands and exercise and in the event of a medical emergency.
During the last six months of her sentence, Whitaker is forced to keep a curfew and do 240 hours of community service between 7 p.m. and 6 a.m.
The judge also issued a restitution order for Whittaker to repay the over $ 748,000 she stole.
She must also provide a sample of her DNA.