Belinda Yorke was sentenced in Penticton Supreme Court, Friday, for embezzling funds during her time as the treasurer at the Oliver Elementary School Parent Advisory Committee (PAC).
Yorke pleaded guilty in February 2020 to one count of theft over $5,000, and on Sept. 17 she was sentenced to a conditional sentence of two years less a day, followed by a year probation and she must pay back the PAC $10,696.17.
During those three years, she must undergo an intake treatment program, apologize to the PAC in person or by letter, she cannot possess any documents that aren’t under her own name or those of her direct family and she must inform any employer or volunteer effort she joins of her sentencing and conditions.
There is no time period attached to the restitution order, as Yorke’s circumstances and means leave her few avenues of paying the funds back.
“The court recognizes that in Ms. Yorke’s circumstances, bordering on poverty, I will decline to assign to Ms. York an impossible task as a condition of sentencing,” Supreme Court Judge Harry Slade observed during his sentencing.
During her time as treasurer, from June 2016 until evidence of her actions started to become clear at the start of 2018, Yorke redirected a total of $17,060.93 of PAC funds into her personal accounts. Only $10,696.17 could be fully accounted for after the forensic audit of the PAC’s finances.
Those funds were redirected either with fraudulent checks to Yorke or her husband or by placing cash earned in fundraising events into her own accounts.
Yorke either refused to provide accurate accounts of the PAC’s funds or mislead the other members as to their standing.
As one example cited by the Crown, in the summer of 2017, Yorke had run the PAC’s general account down to just $154, and then lied to other members of the PAC as to how much was in the account.
“Living in a small town, I’ve been aware of my actions every minute of every day,” Yorke said, addressing the court. “I had to keep my son home from school last year because he was being picked on. I can never forgive myself for putting my child through that.”
Slade noted in his reasoning the impact statements sent in by parents who helped fundraise as well as the other PAC members.
“These speak to the impact of the theft on the children and the school, they’ve been deprived of funds that would otherwise be available for equipment and supplies,” said Slade.
Slade also noted that the statements expressed concerns over the damage Yorke’s actions did to public faith in the PAC.
Among the aggravating factors that he cited in his judgment was the breach of trust and the repeated abuse of her position, while he also cited mitigating factors such as the lack of prior criminal history, the risk of permanent damage due to her precarious medical situation and her guilty plea.
He also took into account the circumstances that lead up to her thefts, such as the fact that her husband provided no support for her or her son, the fact that her main source of income is through disability support, how she looked after her step-father and how she has in her own words become a pariah in her community.
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