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Woman who defrauded businesses gets three-year jail term

A woman who swindled more than $60,000 from four local companies she worked for has been sentenced to three years in jail and has to pay restitution.

Defence lawyer Nick Westera talks to Michelle Gushue prior to her sentencing Wednesday.

Michelle Renee Gushue was sentenced today at provincial court in St. John’s.

Judge David Orr reached his decision following a sentencing hearing. It included an order that banned her from having any authority over property, money or valuable security over another person for four years.

Forty-year-old Gushue pleaded guilty to several counts of fraud, theft and uttering forged documents, along with one count of failing to show up for court.

The charges relate to incidents that happened at New Lab Oxygen Ltd., One Percent Realty, Parallel Services and O’Neill and Son Plumbing and Heating at various times in 2013 and 2015, when she worked at the companies as a bookkeeper.

In most instances, Gushue made company cheques payable to herself and deposited them into her personal account.

Gushue also tried to cash a $13,000 cheque at Money Mart. The cheque belonged to a plumber she had been apprenticing for.

Gushue defrauded NewLab out of $36,170.26; One Percent $884.37, Parallel $7,297 and O’Neill and Son $18,953.20.

Gushue had been released from custody, but when the case was called last month, she didn’t show up. A warrant was issued for her arrest. When police showed up at her house, she lay on the floor and said she had taken several pills. She was detained under the Mental Health Act and was taken to hospital. Once medically cleared, she was taken to the city lockup.

When Gushue took the stand, she said she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2009 and has had trouble maintaining a balance with her medication.

“I was literally a basket case,” Gushue said of her medical state during the time of the frauds.

“My moods were all over the place. I’d go days without sleep and wasn’t eating.”

She got teary-eyed when asked about her autistic teenaged son. She said she and her ex-husband have joint custody, and being away from him for too long would be detrimental to her son’s progress and her ex-husband’s work schedule.

She said she’s obtained her plumbing certificate and has worked at Newfoundland and Labrador Housing, where she says she clears about $6,000 a month.

She said she’s made sure she hasn’t been in a position where she has access to company funds.

She said her brother has moved into her house to help her maintain her medication and ensure she attends doctors appointments.

“I just want to say I’m sorry to my previous employers,” she said, holding back tears. “I never thought or intended for this to happen. I know it’s caused a lot of heartache and I’m  so sorry.”

The sentence was in keeping with what Crown prosecutor Jeff Summers had asked for. He pointed out that Gushue has a 40-page criminal record, including a 13-month sentence and restitution order for a fraud conviction in 2010.

Summers said the impact on the businesses was devastating.

“These were small businesses going up against some extreme financial hardships because of what she did,” he said during the sentencing hearing.

In a victim impact statement read by Summers in court, Shane O’Neill wrote, “it’s hard to accept the person I hired and formed a relationship with could do what she did.”

O’Neill said he lost sleep and had health complications as a result of Gushue’s actions. He said the financial loss affected his business and home life.

He noted that he and his family had welcomed Gushue into their home several times.

“I feel my goodwill has been taken advantage of,” O’Neill said.

Gushue’s lawyer, Nick Westera, said a two-year jail term was more appropriate, given her remorse, her personal circumstances, the steps she’s taken to rehabilitate herself and the steps she’s taken to better her life.

The judge said the biggest aggravating factor was that Gushue abused her position of trust.

He also said what’s striking was the length of time in which the frauds occurred — a two-year period, from February 2013.

“While I’m not unsympathetic in terms of the challenges Miss Gushue faces, the frauds on the victims were significant,” Orr said.

“It had devastating consequences and impacted their home life and families.” TelyCourt

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