Broken trust

Woman who swindled almost $90,000 from groups gets house arrest

Rosie Mullaley rmullaley@thetelegram.com
Published on October 26, 2010
Kerri Nichole Holwell of Mount Pearl hides her face from reporters prior to being sentenced for fraud in provincial court in St. John’s Monday. — Photo by Rosie Gillingham/The Telegram

A Mount Pearl woman who swindled thousands of dollars from three groups, including minor hockey moms, didn’t get much sympathy from the judge.

But in the end, Kerri Nichole Holwell avoided jail time.

In provincial court in St. John’s Monday, the 34-year-old was given an 18-month conditional sentence, meaning she’ll serve her time in the community.

She pleaded guilty to three counts of fraud over $5,000.

Between January 2008 and January of this year, Holwell admitted to stealing more than $86,000.

She defrauded her former employer, Eastcom Inc. in Mount Pearl, of $11,822.98.

While serving as treasurer for two Mount Pearl organizations, she took $34,029.37 from Liberty Housing Co-op and $40,416.67 from the Mount Pearl Minor Hockey Moms.

She said she stole the money to support a cocaine habit.

Her lawyer, Lori Marshall, said Holwell was going through a hard time in her life and it was “a cry for help.”

But that didn’t sit well with the Judge David Power, who called it an excuse.

“These organizations are trying to help other people who can’t, (help themselves)” Power said. “You put yourself in a position where you could steal (the  money).

“Now you come to court and say it was because you were addicted to cocaine…?” he added, shaking his head.

“You can suggest this was a cry for help, but you kept doing it over and over again. That says an awful lot about your character …

“People steal from big corporations, but these organizations were devastated,” the judge said.

“And you couldn’t care less.”

As part of the sentence, Power placed Holwell on two years’ probation with conditions that include she not serve in a position of trust and that she pay back the $86,269.

The judge also told her to stay away from cocaine and people who sell it.

“Yes sir,” Holwell replied, wiping away tears.

The conditional sentence was in keeping with what both Marshall and Crown prosecutor Lloyd Strickland had recommended.

Strickland stressed that even after Holwell confessed to police, she continued her fraudulent activity.

However, he pointed out that she has no prior criminal record, is getting counselling for her drug addiction and has been deemed a low risk to reoffend.

According to the agreed statement of facts read in court, Holwell was a sales and customer service representative when she stole the money from Eastcom.

On several occasions, she made fraudulent refunds to her bank account via her debit card.

As treasurer for the Liberty Housing Co-op — a 10-unit housing co-op on Munden Drive — she wrote a number of cheques and deposited them into her personal bank account. She also admitted to forwarding invoices which she created herself.

In a victim impact statement read in court, David Boyde, a finance services officer with Liberty Housing Co-op, said Holwell’s actions had a “devastating effect.”

“We found ourselves in a situation where we couldn’t pay our bills,” he told the court …

Holwell was also treasurer of the Mount Pearl Minor Hockey Moms, a volunteer organization that operates under the Mount Pearl Minor Hockey Association.

The hockey moms operate the canteen at both the Glacier and Smallwood Drive Arenas. Any profit is turned over to the association, which uses it to pay for activities and payment of hockey fees and equipment for children whose families cannot afford it.

With access to the group’s bank account, Holwell wrote cheques to herself drawn on the minor hockey moms and deposited them into her own personal bank account.

She also stole a number of cash deposits from the canteen.

The value of the cheques was $29,296.45, while she pocketed $11,120.22 in stolen deposits.

Josephine St. Croix of the Mount Pearl Minor Hockey Moms told the court that the impact of Holwell’s frauds was felt throughout the entire association.

“It was a broken trust and it affected the entire organization,” she said.

“It was a huge and significant loss of revenue.”

She said the group was unable to help sponsor under-privileged children. It also resulted in the association having to get an insecure loan to avoid bankruptcy.

“People questioned the goals of our association and questioned our integrity,” she said.

“The loss will be continued to be felt for many years to come.”

rgillingham@thetelegram.com