Whatì man jailed for defrauding inmate trust fund
Molson Romie came to court Monday facing 40 counts of forgery and fraud in connection with a scheme to defraud the North Slave Correctional Complex’s inmate trust fund.
The Whatì man made a deal to plead guilty in NWT Territorial Court to four of those counts, if the Crown agreed to drop the rest.
Judge Donovan Molloy accepted a joint sentencing recommendation on those charges — along with one unrelated count each of fraud, mischief and violating a court order — and jailed the 33 year old to a total of six months, plus one year of probation.
Crown prosecutor Madison Walls told the court Romie had altered and photographed 16 different versions of a 71-cent cheque issued to a prisoner released from the Yellowknife jail in December 2019. Romie then deposited $11,244 into the bank accounts of two women over four days in January 2020. The money was mostly spent on alcohol and drugs.
“[He did so] by writing different amounts of money on blank pieces of paper, which he would then cut out and take overtop of the original monetary amount on the check,” Walls said, adding the cheques were deposited using a mobile banking app that just required a photo of the cheque.
The jail’s bank “detected the suspicious activity shortly after it occurred,” Walls said, and the insured money was returned to the inmate trust fund.
RCMP stated in 2020 the fraud was discovered through a partnership between banks and auditors from the territorial government.
After receiving a report in January 2020, RCMP stated its financial crimes unit launched an “extensive investigation” which included orders to obtain documents from four different financial institutions. Police said their investigation found that up to 15 people may have been involved in cashing forged cheques — some unknowingly.
Romie was arrested on June 20, 2020. One other man from Yellowknife and two Behchokǫ̀ women were also charged with fraud and uttering a forged document. The disposition of those cases isn’t immediately known.
RCMP stated in 2020, they believed the original cheque was reproduced, altered and deposited 36 times into various bank accounts between December 2019 and February 2020, with the total amount deposited totalling $23,407.92.
Last November, Romie had pleaded guilty to seven charges of forgery and fraud in connection with the case and was set to be sentenced in territorial court.
After the Crown prosecutor read an agreed statement of facts in his case, however, Romie denied he had been involved in altering the cheque or depositing any funds.
“I’m the one that brought the cheque there, that’s it,” he said at the time.
However, the Crown and defence lawyer Jay Bran were ultimately able to renegotiate the plea arrangement.
“The only caveat is there were some aspects that he didn’t physically do, but he was there with the individuals that did it and he is acknowledging … he was a party to the offences,” Bran said on Monday. “My understanding from Mr Romie is that during these events, there was a considerable amount of alcohol and drugs being used.
“That’s essentially what the purpose of the project came down to … their attempts to try to score a quick few bucks to fuel all of their addictions.”
In an unrelated crime in February 2020, Romie was in Yellowknife and persuaded a female cousin to cash two personal cheques, made out to him from an unknown man, totalling $521.
The woman did so using a phone banking app and then withdrew $440 at an ATM, pocketing a $40 cash tip, the court heard.
“Several days later, [the cousin] checked her bank account and discovered it was now in overdraft,” Walls said.
The woman’s bank told her the cheques belonged to an account that had been closed after a man had some blank cheques stolen from his truck.
Romie pleaded guilty to fraud in that case, with the Crown dropping charges of forgery and possession of property obtained by crime.
Romie’s final conviction on Monday was in connection to an incident in Whatì in March 2020, where he attempted to enter a residence, scaring a woman and her young children. He was intoxicated at the time and had a court order not to be in the community except for court appearances.
Police found Romie shortly after he had entered another residence and passed out.
He pleaded guilty to mischief and breaking a court order in exchange for another count of violating a release order being dropped.
Romie has accumulated 37 days of pre-trial credit in jail, so will have 143 days left to serve of his sentence. When he is released, Romie will be on probation for one year, with a no-contact order for the woman in Whati. He will also have to repay his cousin $400.
Romie still faces charges in NWT Supreme Court of sexual assault and sexual interference in connection with a 2019 incident. His seven-day trial in that case is scheduled for August.
Correction: February 8, 2022 – 10:38 MT. This report initially stated Molson Romie had 123 days left to serve. Romie, in fact, has 143 days left in his sentence.