The former band manager who stole close to $140,000 from the Spuzzum First Nation won’t go to jail but she will have to pay a portion of the money back.
By writing cheques to herself and forging signatures of elected band officials over a period of approximately two-and-a-half years, Sandra Andrew caused “chaos and confusion” in the tiny Fraser Canyon community, according to BC Supreme Court Justice Neill Brown.
“The ties that bound this longstanding community were frayed,” Brown said in reading his decision Friday. “This obviously was a traumatizing experience.”
Brown handed Andrew a 15-month conditional sentence, 36 months probation, and Andrew is ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $40,000 to the Spuzzum First Nation and $3,000 to Money Mart on Luckakuck Way in Chilliwack.
Andrew is also prohibited for life from working as a bookkeeper or a manger for any First Nation, and she is banned from working with other people’s money.
The $40,000 amount is the difference between the total amount she stole, leaving unpaid the $99,000 covered by insurance.
“Ironically, Miss Andrew took out that insurance,” Brown added.
The sentence was mostly a joint submission. The only place where Crown and defence disagreed was on whether or not Andrew should be required to pay the $99,000 back to the insurer. Andrew said she had no ability to pay that back, while Crown said she should be forced to since that would lessen the “sky-high” insurance premiums the band is now paying.
Brown said he saw the merit in Crown’s argument, but ruled since there is no evidence of assets purchased from the embezzled funds, there is no way Andrew could pay the $99,000 back so he did not order it.
On a long list of aggravating factors in the sentencing, Brown pointed out that all the while Andrew was stealing the money between 2009 and 2012, she was also stirring up ill will among the Spuzzum First Nation by accusing others of being paranoid, even threatening to sue anyone who questioned her ethics.
“There was a high degree of premeditation and deception,” he added, pointing to weekly cheques of $1,000 she wrote to herself, locking her office door while she forged signatures, and then there was the secret “black list” she created affecting band members in the community.
The theft also put the band into overdraft and the serious threat of receivership, something still affecting its credit and relationship with businesses and others.
The federal government also took $80,000 of funding away.
Andrew’s theft even affected the children in Spuzzum who could no longer go to Chilliwack to attend schools as the band could no longer afford to pay School District 33 for that right.
The only mitigating factor Brown suggested was that Andrew eventually did plead guilty. She did so after the trial had begun, but at least it meant a number of people did not have to testify, including a band member in ill health and someone from auditing firm KPMG who discovered the embezzlement during an audit, testimony that would have caused further expense to the band.
A large group of members of the Spuzzum First Nation were in court to attend the sentencing on Friday. In addressing them, Brown suggested he was moved by how well the band had done to overcome this theft. He even suggested a written version of his judgment could be used as encouragement to the federal government to reinstate funding.
“Stand together, support one another. All will be well.”