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Debra Penttila denied appeal of fraud sentence

Debra Penttila, an office manager who pleaded guilty of defrauding her employer of $362,740.46 between 2004 and 2011, and was sentenced to restitution and two years imprisonment, was denied her appeal Feb. 21, 2020. 

The Fraud

Debra Penttila was the office manager at a Prince George, B.C., a company that supplies construction materials. She had co-signing authority and was responsible for the issuance of cheques to suppliers. 

She was considered a trusted 14-year employee. She admitted to altering 166 company cheques by making herself the payee on almost all of them – the vast majority were deposited into her personal account. Because her work was largely unsupervised, this fraud went undetected for over six years. 

Twice a month, she drafted approximately 60 cheques, signed them and then gave them to the general manager to co-sign, which included a remittance stub for each cheque. The general manager reviewed the remittances and co-signed the cheques. Penttila then altered some of the cheques to make the payee herself. 

This went unnoticed until 2011 when, on Feb. 4, Pentilla realized that she couldn’t continue to conceal her fraud. She deposited another company cheque to her personal account in the amount of $2,440.99 but, later that day, was admitted to hospital after taking an overdose of Tylenol. It was at this point that her employer discovered the fraud.

After a lengthy internal investigation within the company, they filed a complaint with the RCMP. The investigation revealed that Pentilla had spent most of the money through gambling at casinos. The company was unable to determine how much they owed to suppliers. 

Penttila was 49 when she began defrauding the company and was 64 at the time of sentencing. She pleaded guilty to one count of defrauding her employer. The Crown sought a sentence of three years imprisonment while the defense lawyer sought two years less one day and three years probation. 

The Judgment 

At the time of sentencing, she had taken no steps to make restitution to her former employer. In the judgement, the sentencing judge concluded a three-year sentence would be appropriate but reduced the sentence to two years due to Pentilla’s circumstances. She was also ordered to make restitution to her employer in the full amount she had defrauded. 

The Appeal

She appealed last February on the grounds that the sentencing judge failed to consider her gambling disorder as a mitigating factor. She also appealed on the basis that the sentencing judge held that her failure to make restitution was an aggravating circumstance that demonstrated that she lacked insight into her offense. 

The appellate judge disagreed. “I conclude that the errors in principle did not have a material impact on the sentence,” the judge concluded on Feb. 21. “Further, the sentence has not been shown to be demonstrably unfit. For these reasons, I would dismiss the appeal.” 

It was decided that gambling addiction is not grounds for leniency for perpetrating a fraud on an employer. To review a copy of the entire decision, it may be found here.