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Two Aboriginals Await Embezzlement Sentencing in Case that Sank Two Fisheries Groups

Two aboriginals are awaiting sentencing on thievery that sank two First Nations fishery groups in British Columbia.

A British Columbia Supreme Court justice is mulling the sentences of two aboriginal men who defrauded two aboriginal organizations out of nearly $1 million, causing the groups’ demise.

According to documents filed with the court, Craig Ashley Morrison, 34, and Dennis James Wells, 55, are charged with defrauding the British Columbia Aboriginal Fisheries Commission and the Aboriginal Council of British Columbia, between 2002 and 2005. Both organizations ceased operations as a result of the incidents.

"Every month for three years these two accused took money that didn't belong to them. They agreed to split the money evenly between them,” prosecutor Brian McKinley told B.C. Supreme Court justice Austin Cullen at a sentencing hearing on October 27, The Vancouver Sun reported. "It affected all the reputations of all the people involved.”

Morrison was working as a bookkeeper for the Vancouver, B.C., offices of both organizations when the incidents occurred. Every month for three years, Morrison diverted funds to the bank account of Wells, who is his cousin.

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The scheme involved 199 transactions totaling $911,992. Large cash withdrawals, bank drafts and forged checks were used. More than $502,000 was taken from the Aboriginal Fisheries Commission, with the rest taken from the Aboriginal Council of B.C.

The scheme was discovered in 2005 after Morrison was laid off and a subsequent audit revealed financial irregularities.

Morrison was in a position of trust, and the breach warrants a four-year prison sentence, the prosecution noted. Wells should be sentenced to three years. The defense requested that the judge render conditional sentences of two years minus a day of house arrest because both men are aboriginal.

According to section 718.2 (e) of the Canadian Criminal Code, the courts must take into account the unique circumstances of aboriginal people when sentencing aboriginal offenders, and consider all available sanctions other than imprisonment. Justice Cullen’s sentencing decision is pending.

The organizations, whose mandate was to advocate for aboriginal rights and provide communications and technical assistance to member nations, had their federal funding cut off and have since disbanded.