Former Chilliwack MLA John Martin’s constituency assistant Desmond Devnich stole more than $100,000 from Martin’s office “trying to fit in where I couldn’t.”
That was part of the opening statement by Crown counsel at Devnich’s sentencing hearing Wednesday morning in provincial court in Chilliwack.
Between July 2013, when Devnich was hired by Martin as his constituency assistant, and February 2017, Devnich e-transferred more than $100,000 to himself and spent more than $12,000 on the constituency office credit card for personal purposes.
Devnich pleaded guilty to two counts of breach of trust by a public officer on Oct. 6, 2020.
In total, he stole $113,964.22 from the constituency office over three years and eight months. The money in constituency office bank accounts does not come from the MLA or the party, but comes from public funds.
The 30-year-old Devnich wore a black suit, black shoes, and black face mask as he listened to the proceedings in courtroom 203 on Wednesday.
The court also heard that the young man had no history of such behaviour, and certainly no criminal record.
“He’s got no background of this kind of conduct at all.”
Crown also read from a transcript of an interview with an RCMP officer at his lawyer’s office where Devnich said he treated the transfers of funds as loans, and that he wanted to pay back the money to pay for a lifestyle. But at one point “one lie was covering another lie and it got more complicated.”
“I was trying to maintain a lifestyle that I thought was appropriate to the job,” Devnich said in his statement. “It was a very social lifestyle in that I attended a lot of community events…. I was living beyond my means. Most definitely I very wrongfully took money by electronic transfer from constituency bank accounts to supplement my existence.”
Devnich’s lawyer Martin Finch painted a picture of a young man from humble circumstances who was doing his best to fit into social circles and political spheres where he was unaccustomed.
“There is an expression, a phrase: He got too far ahead of his skis,” Finch said. “Going too far too fast. That is indeed what I say happened here. He was a young man, he was 22 and 26 [when the offences took place] and he had limited experience and was much more full of enthusiasm than he was of ability when he took on the work for Mr. Martin.”
Finch said Devnich was using money to purchase clothing, furniture, services, restaurant meals because “he believed the need to present himself in a fashion that was consistent to those levels of sophistication.”
He wanted to be “the man about town.”
Devnich’s e-transfers and fraudulent credit card use came to an end when, in June 2016, the government finally began financial oversight into constituency office accounts. Required to reconcile accounts monthly, Devnich could not and by January he was in the crosshairs of the top financial agent for the provincial government.
By February, he confessed to all of it in Finch’s office when interviewed by police.
Devnich was also charged with overlapping counts of fraud over $5,000, charges that were dropped after he entered the guilty pleas.
Under section 122 of the criminal code, breach of trust by a public officer is an indictable offence a conviction for which comes with a term of imprisonment up to five years.
Finch told the court he is asking for the judge to hand down a conditional sentence of two years less a day with certain conditions, including a curfew with exceptions to attend employment, university classes, church, medical appointments, groceries and a period of time outside each day.
He is also asking the judge to order counselling, 240 hours of community service, and restitution of the full amount, $113,964.22, followed by another three years of probation in order to finish the community service.
Crown counsel indicated it was not opposed to a conditional sentence.
The sentencing hearing, which included an extensive agreed statement of facts, was held Wednesday and the presiding judge agreed with submissions and sentenced Devnich accordingly.
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