Joseph Charles Beaverho leaves the Yellowknife courthouse on August 7, 2019. James O'Connor/Cabin Radio
A senior citizen charged with a six-figure siphoning of Tłı̨chǫ scholarship funds is set to spend two years under house arrest for his crime.
Joseph Charles Beaverho, in his mid-60s, pleaded guilty to committing a breach of trust. He fraudulently converted scholarship cheques totalling $120,721 for his own use to feed a gambling habit while employed by the Tłı̨chǫ Community Services Agency [TCSA].
“Fortunately, we don’t deal with these six-figure frauds very frequently,” said Crown prosecutor Trevor Johnson during a sentencing hearing in Territorial Court on Thursday.
“Employee fraud, in a small community, where they are defrauding the only employer in town, is [very rare] in the Northwest Territories.”
The court heard that, from 2005 to 2012, the Tłı̨chǫ Ndek’àowo – or Tłı̨chǫ Government – provided money to a post-secondary scholarship funding program. Tłı̨chǫ citizens attending schools across Canada were eligible for funding, either paid directly to the institution or by submitting expense claims to be reimbursed.
Beaverho was the Behchokǫ̀-based scholarship program officer from August 22, 2005 to April 29, 2012.
“There was no written policy or program for the program officer role,” Johnson told the court. “Mr Beaverho would operate under verbal directions he was given when meeting with TCSA officials.”
Beaverho would deliver cheques to students in person, through banking institutions, or by mail.
In 2010, a scholarship recipient contacted the TCSA after a Canada Revenue Agency assessment revealed $1,944 in unreported income. That was a payment she never received, nor was she sent a tax slip for income tax purposes.
The TCSA reviewed its files and discovered other scholarship payments made in the woman’s name.
In 2012, the TCSA contacted the territory’s comptroller general, whose internal audit bureau began an investigation.
“A forensic analysis was conducted of Mr Beaverho’s work computer and files, along with Mr Beaverho’s personal financial records, which he supplied,” said Johnson.
As part of the scheme, Beaverho would deposit un-endorsed cheques made out to students into his personal account at the Northern Store in Behchokǫ̀, under the guise of “facilitating transfers to students who did not have bank accounts,” said Johnson.
The RCMP became involved in 2012 and charges were subsequently filed.
No money to pay back
It’s unclear why it has taken so long for the case to make it to trial. However, as Beaverho has not committed any further crimes since 2012, it helped make his case for a sentence in the community.
Beaverho was eligible for a conditional sentence – or house arrest – since his crimes pre-dated revised legislation in 2015 that requires a straight jail sentence for his category of offence.
A pre-sentence report showed “significant Gladue factors,” including details of Beaverho’s rough upbringing, said Johnson. The longstanding Gladue principle, named after Cree woman Jamie Tanis Gladue, requires judges to take into consideration circumstances facing Indigenous peoples in order to arrive at an appropriate sentence.
Defence lawyer Jay Bran said his client has been unable to find steady work in Behchokǫ̀ since being fired from his job and is unable to repay any of the money he fraudulently obtained.
“He’s just not in the position to pay anything back,” said Bran.
Bran noted Beaverho cooperated fully with authorities and wrote a letter of apology to his former employer. Beaverho is also intending to seek counselling for gambling addiction and for post-trauma recovery in relation to his upbringing.
Judge Donovan Molloy told Beaverho he would accept the joint sentencing recommendation of two years less a day to be served as a conditional sentence, but reserved his final decision until Friday morning on the exact nature of the restrictions relating to the house arrest.
Beaverho will likely be allowed out of his house for a few hours each week to attend church, run a few errands, meet with his bail supervisor, and attend any counselling that could be recommended.
He will also have to complete between 120 and 180 hours of community service.