“I’d just like to apologize for what I’ve done. I’m certainly sorry for what I’ve done to the honour choir, my family and the community,” Allan Joseph MacDonnell, 54, said at his Feb. 8 sentencing hearing.
The Coldbrook man was originally charged with defrauding the choir of $14,000 and had earlier pleaded guilty. With the consent of Crown attorney Mark Gouthro, the guilty plea was withdrawn Feb. 8 and instead, MacDonnell pleaded guilty to theft over $5,000.
Gouthro had asked the RCMP to lay the new charge. Although he’s opposed to a discharge for MacDonnell, Gouthro wanted to give the defence, Nova Scotia Legal Aid lawyer Brian Vardigans, an opportunity to argue for one.
Gouthro said MacDonnell wrote multiple cheques to himself from the AVHC bank account between Jan. 31 and May 30, 2014. The AVHC president gave MacDonnell the opportunity to repay the funds, but reported the situation to the RCMP when MacDonnell failed to do so.
Although it was said in a victim impact statement from the honour choir that $29,000 had been taken, the amount before the court was $14,000. Some choir members couldn’t travel to Newfoundland as planned because of the missing funds.
The choir had to involve professionals to review the matter, which presented an unspecified cost to the not-for-profit group, and they’ve had trouble attracting volunteers since the matter unfolded.
Gouthro said MacDonnell, a Department of Justice employee, has no issues with alcohol or drugs and has no prior criminal record. He had at least one child who was a member of the honour choir during the time frame the offence was committed.
Gouthro is seeking a sentence of one day deemed served and three years of probation, because “the Crown wants to see this organization get their money back.”
He is also asking for a stand-alone restitution order for $14,000 and restitution as a condition of probation. The money would be repaid at a rate of $388.89 per month. The Crown is also seeking 80 hours of community service work.
“This might take away some of the sting this has had in the local area,” Gouthro said.
Vardigans argued against a sentence of one day deemed served, as this would preclude a discharge.
“Sometimes a really good person does something that’s inexplicable,” Vardigans said.
Vardigans said MacDonnell has just been discharged from a second bankruptcy. He said threats had been made against MacDonnell’s family through a third party. MacDonnell had come into contact with individuals through his job with the Department of Justice who tried to “entice” him to take drugs into the jail system. Vardigans said MacDonnell felt threatened and ended up paying out $15,000.
Judge Jean Whalen, present via video link, asked if MacDonnell had ever thought about calling the police or reporting the alleged extortion. Vardigans said sometimes people do “strange things” under stress.
“I think it’s clear this is totally out of character for Mr. MacDonnell,” Vardigans said.
Vardigans said the theft of funds wasn’t sophisticated. He said nothing could be so “blatant and obvious” as MacDonnell writing cheques to himself from the AVHC account.
Vardigans said there’s no reason to saddle MacDonnell with a criminal record, as this could affect his employment and substantially reduce the chances of the honour choir recouping the stolen funds. He said MacDonnell simply wants to put this behind him and the important thing is that reparations be made.
Whalen said she would take some time to consider submissions and adjourned the sentencing to Feb. 22. Gouthro will appear via video link from Sydney that day.
The Kings District RCMP laid the original charge against MacDonnell following a nine-month investigation. Police received a complaint about the missing funds on Dec. 5, 2014.