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Sentence hearing delayed after woman faints

BY KEITH LACEY A Sudbury bookkeeper facing jail time collapsed and was rushed to hospital Tuesday in the middle of her sentencing hearing on charges of stealing $120,000 from a former employer.

A Sudbury bookkeeper facing jail time collapsed and was rushed to hospital Tuesday in the middle of her sentencing hearing on charges of stealing $120,000 from a former employer.
Friends and family members of Rita Collalti, 53, rushed to her side after she appeared to lose consciousness.

This happened only seconds after assistant Crown attorney Philip Zylberberg told the court the Crown would be seeking an 18-month jail sentence against Collalti.

Firefighters arrived on the scene soon after a 911 call was placed by a court officer. Firefighters placed Collalti on her side until paramedics arrived two minutes later.

Paramedics hooked Collalti up to oxygen, she was loaded onto a gurney and taken away to hospital.

In what was a bizarre day in court, Justice Louise Gauthier of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice adjourned the matter to Friday, where a new date will be set for CollaltiÂ?s sentencing hearing to continue.

Collalti was found guilty in January following a trial of stealing $120,000 between April of 2000 and August 2001, from the owner of a siding company, she worked for as a bookkeeper.

Earlier in the day, Gauthier dismissed an application by CollaltiÂ?s lawyer James Longstreet to introduce new evidence before sentence was passed.

Collalti suggested a letter she produced for the court should be considered by the sentencing judge to either order a new trial or strongly consider in relation to her sentencing on the fraud charges.

Longstreet said the document helps prove allegations by Collalti she was sexually and physically abused by the owner of the siding company.

Court heard Greater Sudbury Police conducted a separate investigation after receiving the letter from Collalti and ended up charging her with obstructing justice, fabricating evidence and public mischief.

Zylberberg told the court the document was a fabrication and lame attempt by Collalti to delay sentencing on the theft charges.

Gauthier agreed, stating the letter appeared to be a fake and had no effect, in her opinion, on the fraud charges Collalti was convicted of and would not delay TuesdayÂ?s sentencing hearing.

There were a number of aggravating factors involved in the Crown asking for a stiff jail sentence of 18 months, said Zylberberg in the minutes before Collalti collapsed.

Her indiscretions involved a serious breach of trust by an employee against an employer, said Zylberberg.

Â?The amount of trust an employer places on a bookkeeper is enormous,Â? he said.

By the nature of the work, bookkeepers must be counted on by business owners to conduct themselves honestly at all times, he said.

CollaltiÂ?s illegal acts involved 30 separate transactions over 16 months.

Â?Thirty times she could have stopped and 30 times she did not,Â? he said.

Two business owners testified on CollaltiÂ?s behalf. Both men said Collalti has worked for many years for them as a bookkeeper and consider her a good friend and outstanding worker who they trust immensely.

Both men said they will continue to use CollaltiÂ?s bookkeeping services no matter what sentence the courts impose against her.

Longstreet said CollaltiÂ?s actions canÂ?t be tolerated, but the court must consider her personal circumstances and the fact she is a first-time offender.

His client was the victim of two abusive marriages, he said.

The woman was also devastated by the suicide of her mother six years ago. After her mother died, Collalti went into a severe depression and she attempted to take her own life, said Longstreet.

She also suffers from numerous physical ailments, including diabetes, ulcers, kidney and heart problems, said Longstreet.

Collalti has worked as a bookkeeper for numerous other businesses over the past two decades and does personal income tax for more than 100 family members and friends. ThereÂ?s never been any allegations of wrongdoing, said Longstreet.

Longstreet asked the court to impose a conditional sentence or brief period of incarceration, along with a restitution order and probation.

If the court has no choice but to send Collalti to jail, Longstreet asked his client be given two weeks to prepare for any sentence that might be imposed.

During the application hearing, held during a voir dire, or trial within a trial, Longstreet said Collalti didnÂ?t show the document during her trial several months ago out of fear of her former employer.

Zylberberg said the document provided by Collalti to her lawyer is obviously a fabrication and poor attempt to delay proceedings.

If the courts ever allowed people convicted of crimes to bring forward key evidence with wild allegations following a conviction, it would be nearly impossible for the justice system to work, said Zylberberg.

Â?The Crown takes the position the document is not genuineÂ?and she can be held criminally
responsible for its creation and use in her own defence,Â? said Zylberberg.

Gauthier ruled the document was not reliable, contradictory and false.

Â?Does it appear reasonably capable of beliefÂ?in my opinion, no it does not,Â? said the veteran judge.

If the document were genuine, there is absolutely no doubt Collalti would have presented it to her lawyer and gave evidence about her allegations at trial, said Gauthier.