“As I was capable of doing it once, I’m quite capable of doing it again.”
The words of Nicole McKinnon might sound like a repeat offender admitting culpability to crimes they’ve committed.
In proper context they are McKinnon’s vow to rebuild her life, as she awaits sentencing on the many offences she has confessed to committing.
Just over a year ago, McKinnon’s life began to tumble out of her control. Fueled by a growing drug addiction, the former executive director of the Corner Brook Downtown Business Association began stealing money from her employer.
Last fall, realizing she was in serious trouble, she went to the mayor of Corner Brook and a city councillor she felt she could trust and told them what was happening.
The DBA, which has suspended its operations, was mainly funded by a levy collected from downtown business by the City of Corner Brook.
McKinnon had been cashing cheques inappropriately made out to her in order to sustain her addiction to cocaine since April 2018.
While she told police she thought she was responsible for taking between $20,000 and $30,000, the subsequent investigation indicated more than $63,000 had gone missing from the DBA’s coffers.
McKinnon was charged with numerous counts of fraud, theft and possessing stolen property earlier this year. Since her arrest, she was also charged with several counts of breaching the court-ordered conditions of her release and a series of thefts from local businesses.
She entered guilty pleas to some of the charges last month. They included 14 fraud charges and a charge of possessing stolen cheques stemming from the missing DBA money, along with nine charges of theft and court order breaches.
During her sentencing hearing in provincial court Tuesday afternoon, McKinnon apologized to her family for everything she has put them through in the last year and thanked them for continuing to support her.
She also apologized to the DBA and the city of Corner Brook for what she did.
“I regret it every day,” she said. “I suffer with disbelief that it happened.”
The court was told McKinnon has taken steps to deal with the addiction and mental health issues that kept getting her into trouble with the law. Even after her initial arrest. McKinnon said she had trouble accepting what she did and the drugs were her way of dealing with the reality.
“I need to let go of what I did,” she said. “I need to learn to go forgive myself. I have to move forward. Otherwise, I will continue to be sick and I’m going to continue to have an addiction.”
She said she has promised herself to make things right in her life, and to get back to where she was before this ordeal began.
“I’m going to rebuild everything I have lost,” she said. “As I was capable of doing it once, I’m quite capable of doing it again.”
While even Judge Wayne Gorman said the amount of money at stake in this case is toward the higher end of the range of precedents of people who have stolen from their employer, Crown attorney Trina Simms is not asking for a prison sentence for the major crimes committed by McKinnon.
In her submission on sentencing, Simms asked Gorman to give McKinnon 12 months of house arrest for the offences related to the DBA. The Crown asked for two years of probation for the shoplifting offences that took place this summer and for between 45 and 60 days for the court order violations.
Simms did ask that McKinnon repay the $63,557, the loss of which has rendered the DBA inoperable and uncertain if it can ever become an active organization again.
Courtney Mills, who defended McKinnon in court, concurred the conditional sentence would be appropriate. She noted McKinnon is a good candidate for rehabilitation and has already taken positive steps in that direction.
Mills said this is a classic case of how drugs can quickly ruin someone’s life. She emphasized McKinnon has no prior record and took it upon herself to confess her crimes to members of city council.
Mills said McKinnon understands the serious nature of breaching court orders now and knows she could have to serve the entire sentence in prison should she break any conditions of house arrest, should Gorman decide that is an appropriate sentence in this case.
Mills did take exception to the restitution order. She said her client has no means to repay the amount and suggested the DBA should try to recoup its losses through the civil courts.
Gorman will decide on the sentencing Monday.
Before doing so, the judge asked the Crown if it was able to reconcile how the cheques were cashed if they required two signatures. Simms said there was no evidence alleging forged signatures, but also no evidence when the cheques were signed or if the other signatory on the cheques — an executive member of the DBA — was aware they were being used fraudulently.
McKinnon's legal troubles won't be over after Monday's sentencing. She has a trial set or late October on charges related to her alleged misuse of a credit card belonging to a DBA board member and another court order breach.