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Fraudsters Who Toppled Two Aboriginal Organizations Get Prison Time

A British Columbia Supreme Court Judge has netted out prison sentences to two men who defrauded two aboriginal rights organizations out of nearly one million dollars.

Associate Chief Justice Austin Cullen sentenced Craig Ashley Morrison, 34, to two years in prison. Cullen also sentenced Morrison's accomplice Dennis Wells, 55, to 18 months in prison.

Morrison worked as a bookkeeper for the Vancouver offices of both organizations from 2002-2005. He siphoned $911,992 from the organizations and into the account of Wells, his cousin.

More than $502,000 was taken from the Aboriginal Fisheries Commission, with the balance taken from the Aboriginal Council of B.C., both of which worked to advance aboriginal rights issues. Both organizations subsequently collapsed.

The pair pled guilty to fraud greater than $5,000 last year.

Prosecutors sought a four-year sentence for Morrison given his position of trust and access to the funds. They wanted three years for Wells.

Both men suffered from alcohol and gambling problems, defense lawyers said. The courts also heard that Wells gambled and drank away most of his proceeds at casinos.

Defense lawyers sought two-year conditional sentence orders (CSO) because both men are aboriginal. Such a sentence would have allowed them to serve their sentences at home.

But Justice Cullen disagreed, citing several circumstances: He said the length of time during which the offenses were ongoing, the role that greed played as a motivating factor, and the fact that both organizations collapsed outweighed any need for a conditional order.

The sentence was more than expected, considering the men applied for a CSO, said the former chairperson of both organizations.

“Two years doesn’t seem like much, but it’s more than I thought they would get,” Ken Malloway, the CEO, said. “They talked about their aboriginal ancestry and how hard they have it now so I was afraid they would get less time.”

The trial may be over but the board members of the former organizations continue to deal with the fallout.

One member is still despondent over what happened. Another got into another line of work after years of advocacy. And another couldn’t stand to see the men in court.

“This ruined our lives and our reputations. Some guys even had a hard time finding work after because of the stigma around what happened,” said Malloway, who incurred considerable debt trying to save the organizations.

The fact that the men were aboriginal resonates bitterly with Malloway.

“It felt worse knowing that it was other Indians who did this,” he said. “But they’ve got two years in jail to think about what they did to us.”