Ontario man, Morris Wapoose, ordered to use some of his lottery winnings to pay for his role in defrauding health clinic

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Morris Wapoose, the former treasurer of an Ontario not-for-profit organization who pleaded guilty to defrauding Thunder Bay’s Anishnawbe Mushkiki Health Clinic of about $60,000, was sentenced in November. 

Anishnawbe Mushkiki is a Ministry of Health funded Aboriginal Health Access Centre and is operated by a seven-member volunteer board of directors. In March, Wapoose pleaded guilty and was found responsible for $60,000 of an $800,000 fraud that had occurred between 2012 and 2015. 

According to court records, shortly after pleading guilty to this offence, Mr. Wapoose won $100,000 in a lottery. He bought a van with his winnings—after which $43,000 remained. The Centre then brought civil proceedings and obtained an order that the remaining proceeds be paid into court.

The two other individuals involved were Corrina Gagnon, Executive Director of the organization, and Tanya Mainville, Chief Financial Officer, who also pleaded guilty. According to court documents, the fraudulent activity began with Gagnon and Mainville. Wapoose later began receiving payments he was not legally entitled to as a volunteer board member. In his plea, Wapoose admitted to defrauding the clinic of $59,901.70.

Gagnon pleaded guilty to defrauding the Centre of approximately $360,000 and was sentenced to imprisonment for 18 months. Mainville pleaded guilty to defrauding the Centre of approximately $270,000 and was sentenced to imprisonment for 12 months. Both were ordered to make restitution. 

The Centre alleged that $800,000 was misappropriated and that it has incurred $200,000 in forensic accounting and legal fees to investigate the fraud. It has had to “sell assets, including a clinic building, because of these losses and services have been negatively affected”.

Wapoose’s circumstances

In a Gladue Report, the court concluded that a number of adverse factors may have impacted Wapoose’s life. This included being raised primarily by his grandmother after being neglected by his parents and was separated from his five siblings most of his life and attending a residential school in Moose Factory for one year at the age of eight. 

One of his sisters was murdered, one completed suicide while incarcerated and another died as a result of alcohol-related issues. Two of his sons completed suicide in 2005 and 2010 respectively and his wife’s nephew also completed suicide while living with them in 2013. He said he abused and became dependent on alcohol to deal with these situations. 

In response to this, several restorative justice options were submitted for consideration, including attending counselling with Tibishkogijig Mental Health and Consulting Services to address familial relationship breakdown, grief and trauma, and residential school effects; attending the HUB Program offered by Nishnawbe-Aski Legal Services to complete the Financial Literacy program; and continuing to attend traditional ceremonies (sweat lodges, pipe ceremonies) and then to continue to practice cultural activities (smudges, powwows).

Restitution/ Sentencing

Despite winning a $100,000 lottery shortly after pleading guilty, at the time of sentencing, Wapoose had not made any restitution payments. Noting the effects the fraud had on the clinic and its operations, the Crown argued for immediate payment of the restitution from the $40,000 left from his lottery win and the rest to be paid over a 12 month period—Wapoose anticipates receiving a settlement from the Residential Schools fund. 

The Crown also argued that, in addition to restitution, the appropriate sentence for Wapoose was imprisonment in the range of six to nine months. Defense lawyer Kevin Matthews suggested a conditional sentence of 12 months plus probation. 

At the sentencing on Nov. 16, Judge Danial Newton concluded “a fit sentence is a sentence which may be served in the community pursuant to a conditional sentence order which shall be in effect for 12 months. He must, as restitution, make payment of the balance of the restitution owed of $16,901.70 to Anishnawbe Mushkiki Health Clinic within 12 months.”

After the 12-month conditional sentence, he will then be placed on probation for two years, complete 240 hours of community service with an Indigenous organization and is prohibited from volunteering or employment of any kind that gives him authority over “property, money or valuable security of another person or organization.”

To review a copy of the entire decision, it may be found here.