Jeff Heuchert, Gazette staff
Former businessman John-David Graham will be sentenced Jan. 18 after pleading guilty to a second charge of fraud against his former employer Friday in Stratford’s Superior Court.
In total, the former business consultant and lending manager for the Perth Community Futures Development Corporation (PCFDC) admitted to stealing $573,863 from the non-profit company over a five-year period.
According to facts read in the courtroom, Graham created fake invoices for services not supplied and arranged for those invoices to be paid by PCFDC. He then deposited that money into his own accounts. The invoices were supposedly from Credit Risk Management, the law firm Monteith, Ritsma, Phillips and a property management company.
Graham previously pled guilty to presenting false loans to the PCFDC board and, once approved, depositing the money into his own accounts.
Given the seriousness of the case and its importance to the community, Justice Roland Haines adjourned the case until the new year to consider the two vastly different sentencing scenarios that were submitted by defence lawyer Henry Van Drunen and crown attorney Mike Murdoch.
Van Drunen is asking for a conditional sentence of two years to be served in the community, while Murdoch suggested a three-year prison term.
In his submission, Murdoch said Graham’s actions were driven by “pure and simple greed.”
“He wanted to make more money then he was otherwise entitled to,” he added.
Murdoch acknowledged Graham pled guilty to his crimes but noted he did so in the face of overwhelming evidence.
He questioned how remorseful Graham is for his crimes, pointing out none of the money stolen has been paid back.
He suggested Graham, who is prohibited by a civil judgement from earning money at his wife’s business, P’Lovers Eco Lifestyle, should have been out in the community taking whatever work he could find to begin restitution payments.
Graham was ordered by a judge earlier this year to repay PCFDC over $763,000. The company has brought forward a new lawsuit in an attempt to recover the money.
It was Graham’s job at the PCFDC to ensure prospective borrowers completed the necessary paperwork and to make loan proposals on their behalf to the company’s volunteer board.
Murdoch said Graham relied on the “high regard he was kept” by PCFDC staff and its board, as well as its corporate partners, to get away with his crimes.
“(The board) continuously relied on his recommendations and acted as if (they were) true. No one would ever doubt him,” he added.
On that point, Murdoch asked Justice Haines to not put much weight behind three letters of support submitted by the defence which spoke to Graham’s professionalism and integrity.
One of the letters, written in late 2011, was from Eugene Zakreski, executive director of the Stratford Tourism Alliance. Another was provided by local business owner and City Centre Committee member Gary O’Connell.
As a result of the fraud, the PCFDC lost capital and interest, and had to turn down other legitimate small business loans, said Murdoch.
A victim impact statement from PCFDC general manager Nigel Howard suggested as many as 300 jobs were lost in Perth County as a result of the theft – an assertion the defence suggested was “highly speculative.”
Van Drunen also objected to comments made by an OPP officer in the pre-sentence report that characterized his client as being a “smooth talker,” “charmer,” and “not remorseful.”
“Mr. Graham strongly objects to that statement,” said Van Drunen. “It is absolutely wrong.”
As a mitigating factor, Van Drunen noted Graham cooperated with police and pled guilty, saving the court time and money.
Part of the reasoning for the request of a conditional sentence is so that Graham can continue treatment for depression, anxiety and other psychiatric issues.
But Murdoch suggested those troubles are to be expected, adding, “if you don’t want the angst, don’t take the money.”
With his family sitting in the courtroom, Graham read a tearful statement in which he apologized to the PCFDC, the community and to his wife.
“No amount of words can convey how sorry I am,” he said. “I know I will never be able to fully repair the relationships I damaged.”
Graham said he will work on being a better person and promised to spend the rest of his life paying back the money he stole.