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Former bill collector charged with impersonating sheriff’s officer

Michael Corneau (left) speaks with his lawyer, Derek Hogan, before the start of his trial in provincial court in St. John’s Thursday.
Michael Corneau (left) speaks with his lawyer, Derek Hogan, before the start of his trial in provincial court in St. John’s Thursday. - Tara Bradbury

Michael Corneau called a woman to try to collect payment, but she handed the phone to her friend, a real sheriff’s officer

A former bill collector admitted to a provincial court judge Thursday he had tried to intimidate a woman when he called her to collect money she owed for her car repair bill, but said he never pretended to be a sheriff’s officer.

That’s not what the woman — and her friend, an actual sheriff’s officer who was with her when she received the phone call — testified.

Michael Cory Corneau, 41, is charged with a single count of impersonating a peace officer in connection with a phone call he made to Lori Warford last January.

Warford was the first witness to take the stand at Corneau’s trial in St. John’s Thursday, and told the court she had been on her way to a meeting of her dart league when she received text messages and phone calls from a man claiming to be a sheriff’s officer. Warford said the man demanded money from her, or else he would come and repossess her vehicle.

“The person stated they were close to my home and were going to collect my vehicle or the money, and told me to be prepared,” Warford told the court.

She testified she did owe money to A+ Auto Centre for a brake job on her vehicle, which she had been paying off as per a verbal agreement with the business owner.

Once Warford arrived at her dart game, she showed the text messages to her teammate, Kimberley Stockwood, and asked her if they were legitimate. Stockwood, who has been employed as a sheriff’s officer for the past 20 years, felt right away it was a hoax, Warford said.

Stockwood also took the stand, and said that when Warford’s phone rang again, she was the one who answered it. The man told her that he was driving, she said, and asked her where she was going to meet him, since he had an order to take her car.

“I asked him, ‘What order do you have? What is it?’ He said, ‘Lady, I have a file, I have an order from the sheriff’s office. Do I have to call the police?” Stockwood said. She said the man was yelling into the phone so loudly, she had to hold it away from her ear.

Stockwood said she asked the man his name, and he told her it was Michael Hennessey. She said she asked him who he was and he told her, “I’m a sheriff’s officer.”

“I said, ‘Oh, Michael Hennessey, you’re a sheriff’s officer, are you?’ I repeated everything back to him. I cautioned him that impersonating a sheriff’s officer is a criminal offence,” Stockwood testified. “I told him I was actually a sheriff’s officer and had been for 20 years in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, and that there was no one employed by the sheriff’s office by the name of Michael Hennessey.”

Stockwood said she ended the call and advised Warford, who was shaken by the incident, to report it to police. Warford called the RNC the next day.

Jon Sinnott, owner of A+ Auto Centre, also testified at Corneau’s trial, saying Corneau was a longtime friend and he had given him the names, phone numbers and addresses of customers owing money so Corneau could try to collect it for him. Warford was one of those customers, Sinnott said.

He testified he had tried calling her to collect the money, to no avail, and denied the two had an agreement for a payment plan.

“Did you instruct (Corneau) on how to collect the money?” Crown prosecutor Mina Iskandar asked Sinnott.

“No,” Sinnott replied.

“Do you know how he collected money?” Iskandar asked.

“No, sir,” Sinnott responded.

Corneau was the last to testify. He had worked for a large automotive company in Ontario, he said, and had moved home to Newfoundland after a divorce. Sinnott had helped him out by giving him some money when he first arrived, he said, and so he felt obligated to act as a bill collector for Sinnott when asked.

Corneau said he had called Warford from his home while having a beer and had “tried to be a little intimidating,” using “interrogation tactics but nothing outside the boundaries,” and only raising his voice when it seemed the person on the phone was in a crowded place and having trouble hearing him. He didn’t explain what kind of order he had, he told the court, since by then he had realized it wasn’t Warford on the phone.

“I’m not a law expert. I didn’t want to tell her what was in the file because I thought it would be a privacy breach,” Corneau said.

The file consisted of the paper Sinnott had given him with Warford’s personal information.

“What did you say about the sheriff’s office?” Iskandar asked Corneau.

“To be honest, I talk so fast, she could have heard me the wrong way,” Corneau said, adding he had said the sheriff’s office could get involved if the money wasn’t paid. “I’m a grown person, I’m very responsible. I don’t want to undermine Ms. Stockwood, but I really, truly believe from the bottom of my heart that I didn’t identify myself as a sheriff’s officer.”

Corneau said that after the conversation with Stockwood, he ended his friendship with Sinnott and never made any other collections calls for him.

“(Stockwood) told me he was using me as a henchman,” Corneau testified. “I felt that she was right.”

Corneau’s case will be called in court again Jan. 28, when Iskandar and defence lawyer Derek Hogan will present their closing submissions.

Twitter: @tara_bradbury

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