18-month conditional sentence for bookkeeper

A 44-year-old mother of two was spared jail time after pleading guilty Friday, June 6 to stealing more than $75,000 while employed as a bookkeeper.

Instead, Kelly May McLaughlin was given an 18-month conditional sentence, to be served at her Cowichan-area home with an 8 p.m.-6 a.m. curfew and other conditions.

Part of the reason for the conditional sentence was that there is no Vancouver Island facility where women can be incarcerated and it would be difficult for McLaughlin to see her family if she were at a mainland site, said Victoria provincial court Judge Robert Higinbotham.

McLaughlin admitted to stealing $14,228.69 from the B.C. Institute of Agrology and $60,847.95 from the College of Applied

Biology, both Victoria-based professional organizations.

The money was taken over a four-year period from April 2008 to June 2012, said Crown prosecutor Patrick Weir.

Weir said what happened was "a gross breach of trust."

"The damage to the organizations is significant."

Weir said that McLaughlin treated her employers "like a piggy bank" and used the money she took for a wide range of personal expenses, including B.C. Hydro and cellphone bills.

Defence lawyer Ronke Olorunojowon said McLaughlin had always intended to pay the money back, but the situation got away from her. In asking for a conditional sentence, she said McLaughlin has no prior record, is remorseful and needs to keep earning money to help support her family.

"Without her income, the house right now will be foreclosed," Olorunojowon said. She said McLaughlin is no longer working as a bookkeeper, which paid up to $25 an hour, and is now making $18 an hour in a different line of work.

In passing sentence, Higinbotham said that McLaughlin was clearly living beyond her means when she took the money. He said she must make payments on her debt at a rate of $100 a month.