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Gambling addict stole from seniors to pay for habit

BY KEITH LACEY A woman who devised a four-year web of intricate deception to con an octogenarian Sudbury couple out of their life savings, is going to jail for six months.

A woman who devised a four-year web of intricate deception to con an octogenarian Sudbury couple out of their life savings, is going to jail for six months.

Justice Ian Gordon of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice said he had no choice but to send Shirley Lebel, 64, to jail for her complicated scheme, one that involved repeated lies, forgeries and using false letterhead from numerous financial agencies and the federal government.

?This crime involved a veritable smorgasbord of deception,? said Gordon Monday.

He placed Lebel on 12 months of probation following the completion of her sentence.

During that time, Gordon told Lebel she must continue to access counselling for her gambling addiction.

Defence counsel Charles Conroy insisted this addiction was the root of the crime which caused her to steal

Even though Lebel has worked most of her life and had no previous criminal record, a jail sentence is mandatory to deter others who might consider attempting to defraud vulnerable seniors, said Gordon.

On numerous occasions Lebel persuaded her victims to give her money based on false promises.

?You have woven a tapestry of deception?is there remorse, yes, I don?t doubt it now, but where was that remorse over the course of those years?? Gordon asked.

Defence counsel?s request for a conditional sentence to be served under house arrest is simply not appropriate when you consider all the circumstances, said Gordon.

It is not a sufficient penalty for a woman who stole the life savings of a couple in their 80s, who trusted her deeply, he said.

The court realizes Lebel has very limited funds to live on, but Gordon still imposed a restitution order for Lebel to pay $350 a month to the couple once she?s released from jail.

The veteran judge added five per cent interest to the $114,000 she stole making the restitution order in the amount of $123,000.

Assistant Crown attorney Len Walker told the court Lebel started borrowing money from the couple in the fall of 1998 and continued to do so until early April of 2002.

Each time she borrowed money, she would convince the couple she had a large windfall of cash coming her way.

Lebel even signed promissory notes for the money she had borrowed.

?She repeatedly held out that money was coming her way,? said Walker.

An attentive bank employee noticed indiscretions and notified police. At first the elderly couple didn?t believe Lebel had done anything wrong and didn?t want her charged.

When originally confronted by police, Lebel denied any wrongdoing and insisted she was waiting for payments from insurance companies.

Lebel?s complicated scheme included forging signatures on documents provided by legitimate financial institutions and one federal government agency.

She was charged after a police investigation revealed the insurance companies and government agency had not forwarded such letters.

Lebel admitted her guilt and complicated scheme to police after she was arrested.

Her lawyer said Lebel not only suffers from a serious gambling addiction, but numerous physical ailments, including pending gall bladder surgery and serious arthritis, which forces her to use numerous medications.

Despite what has happened, sending Lebel to jail is not necessary as she has deep remorse and is no danger to reoffend, Conroy said.

Her plea of guilt saved a long, costly trial and she has worked hard most of her life to be a contributing member of society, said Conroy.

?She has done everything she can to address the matters in court and address her own problems,? he said.

Lebel has accessed counseling and will continue to do so, he said.

Lebel used the stolen money not to spend lavishly on luxury items or trips, but simply to try to recover money already lost because of her gambling addiction, he said.

?She gambled more and more to try to make up for the money already lost,? he said.

Walker said the fact she stole the life savings from an elderly couple who placed so much trust in her cries out for a jail sentence.

The elderly couple has been bilked of their life savings, accumulated through decades of hard work, and they?re never going to see that money again, said Walker.