A man accused of faking dozens of school bus inspection certificates bypassed his five-day trial and went straight to sentencing Tuesday after changing his pleas to guilty.
Peter James Roche, 48, made a last-minute deal with the Crown and pleaded guilty to the criminal charge of forging 44 certificates, causing the government to accept them as genuine. He also pleaded guilty to a charge of issuing inspection certificates without a proper inspection of a vehicle, under the province’s Highway Traffic Act.
As well, Roche pleaded guilty on behalf of his business, Roche’s Automotive Services Ltd., to a similar Highway Traffic Act charge.
“The aggravating factor here is that buses were put on the road without proper inspection, putting children’s lives at risk,” provincial court Judge Jim Walsh said. “Protection of the public is what I’m most concerned with here.”
Roche, as chief mechanic of Roche’s Automotive Services, had signed the inspection certificates in the fall of 2016, and confirmed he had taken each of the vehicles on a road test as a required part of the inspections.
Peter Roche back in court after allegedly breaking curfew
Staff with the province’s Motor Registration Division realized Roche did not have a valid licence at the time, having been given a three-year driving ban in 2013 for impaired driving that was still in effect, and contacted the RNC.
Officers met with Roche, who told them that he had completed the inspections, but had asked another man, a former chief mechanic at the garage, to conduct the road tests while Roche came along as a passenger, given he had no valid licence.
Officers then located the man Roche had named, who told them that he was more or less retired and hadn’t driven any buses for Roche during the time period in question. While investigators were chatting with him, Roche called the man’s cellphone and asked him to tell police, if they contacted him, that he had driven the buses.
Roche was charged in January of last year. He earned himself more charges while waiting to go to trial, after he failed to show up in court twice for his scheduled proceedings.
He told Walsh on Tuesday he accepted responsibility for forging the certificates.
“I knew it was wrong,” Roche said, but added Service NL officials had found the buses in proper working order when they inspected them. “All this stems from a (licence) suspension due to alcohol, which I’ve taken steps to take care of.”
Roche said he completed a 28-day addiction program this past winter.
Accepting a joint suggestion from Roche — who represented himself — and prosecutor Jude Hall, Walsh sentenced Roche to two months of house arrest, followed by 10 months of supervised probation, with a condition that he participate in counselling as determined by his probation officer.
“If we can’t rely on buses to transport children, our most vulnerable in society, and we can’t rely on professionals to properly inspect the buses, then the court must protect them,” Walsh said.
Walsh acknowledged Roche has an old criminal record that includes multiple driving-related charges as well as theft, and he and his business both have prior convictions under the Highway Traffic Act regarding vehicle inspections. A second violation means the business and Roche personally will be permanently banned from conducting vehicle inspections. Walsh verified that the government would take this step before he let Roche leave the courtroom.
Walsh also ordered Roche to pay a fine: $12,440 in total between him and his business, with two years to pay. If there are any arrears at the end of the two years, Roche will be forced to serve jail time.
In addition, Roche received a sentence of time served for the two counts of failing to appear in court as scheduled.