CORNER BROOK — A former bank manager in Corner Brook has been given 21 months of house arrest and ordered to repay almost $52,000 he misappropriated to feed his gambling addiction.
Robert David Howell, 35, pleaded guilty to two counts of theft over $5,000 in November, and was back in provincial court for facts and sentencing Thursday morning.
Howell was fired from his position as manager of the TD Canada Trust branch in Corner Brook in June 2008 after a routine audit revealed suspicious transactions at the bank. The questionable money transfers had dated as far back as May 2006, more than a year before Howell was promoted to branch manager on May 19, 2007.
The court heard that Howell’s position gave him access to an internal bank account, which he could use for discretionary work purposes. He also had access to a privately held account which contained around $800,000 in investments made by the account holder.
According to the facts read into the court record by Crown attorney Mike Fox, Howell’s modus operandi was to transfer amounts from these two accounts and move them into one of 17 intermediary accounts belonging to people he knew personally or was related to.
He would then transfer the money from those intermediary accounts into his own personal Visa account, which he used to pay online gambling charges he had accrued.
When he was confronted by the bank about the suspicious transactions, said Fox, Howell immediately indicated he knew what it was about and that his job at the bank was over.
While these types of crimes often do call for a period of incarceration, given the breach of trust involved with stealing from one’s employer and the distrust in the financial institution it can create in the community, Fox did not ask that Howell be sent to prison.
Fox noted that, in similar cases, the courts have given suspended or conditional sentences followed by periods of probation.
The offences were planned, deliberate and involved multiple transactions over a lengthy period of time for personal benefit, but Fox said what really needs to be addressed is Howell’s gambling problem. Putting him in prison would not help him deal with that addiction, the Crown attorney added.
In addition to being remorseful for stealing the money, Howell has already taken steps to address his gambling issues, including installing software on his home computer that prohibits him from accessing online gambling sites.
A pre-sentence report indicated Howell has found another job in the financial field. He is married with three young children and has no prior criminal record.
Fox, noting Howell does not pose a threat to the community, suggested a conditional sentence of 18 to 24 months, followed by a period of probation, would be appropriate.
The Crown also asked Judge Kymil Howe to order Howell to repay the entire amount taken from the bank, which involved $33,447 taken from one account and $18,456 from the second account for a total of $51,903.
Defence lawyer Jamie Merrigan agreed with the range of sentence and that it should be served within the community. He argued differently when it came to the issue of restitution.
Merrigan said Howell wanted to pay the money back and felt he could afford to do it at a rate of $5,000 per year. Merrigan called that amount “ambitious,” and said it would constitute a significant portion of his Howell’s family’s budget for the next 10 years.
Merrigan suggested his client be ordered to repay between $18,000 and $25,000 for five years, so his family would not have to endure the financial strain for a decade. If the bank wanted to recoup the rest, said Merrigan, it could do so through civil litigation.
Howe did not agree with that, noting that such a sentence could open Howell up to incurring significant court costs should the bank decide to go after any remaining amount he wasn’t ordered to pay back.
The judge ordered Howell to repay the entire amount at a rate of $400 per month, in addition to the 21-month conditional sentence and 12 months of probation.
The sentence includes an order for Howell to maintain software on his computer that blocks access to gambling sites and prohibits him from entering any establishment which has video lottery gaming machines.