A former Dalhousie employee who defrauded the university out of more than $34,000 was given a six-month conditional sentence in an Ontario court Wednesday. Debbie Smajda, who pleaded guilty to the charge, must stay in her home between 7 p.m. and 6 a.m. for six months and was ordered begin restitution payments.
“She’s clearly very remorseful,” said defence lawyer Alison Craig, who noted that Smajda, 53, won’t be bound to any specific repayment schedule.
While Crown prosecutor John Scott had asked for 50 hours of community service and a conditional sentence of two years less a day, Justice Peter Harris said that would be too harsh. Harris added that handing Smajda, who lives alone in a basement apartment and has a history of emotional problems, such a sentence could lead to tragic consequences.
“This case is very awkward,” Harris said before handing down the sentence. Still, Harris noted the serious breach of trust issues inherit in a fraud conviction.
The fraud occurred from September 2002 to October 2006 when Smajda worked as an administrator at the university’s medical school. During that time, the court heard that Smajda abused an employee charge card, buying personal items that amounted to $34,325.
On Oct. 3, 2006, Dalhousie accounting staff discovered some “questionable invoices” made out to Adjams Business Services, which was discovered to be Smajda’s husband’s business, court heard.
“At that time, she confessed,” said Scott, who added that Smajda told the university she would repay the funds by refinancing her Halifax home. However, he added that there’s been no restitution so far. “Ms. Smajda’s financial situation is not likely to allow her to make substantial restitution,” Scott said.
As the charges against her were read in court, an emotional-looking Smajda stood silently. Like a previous court appearance in March, Smajda was dressed in black and accompanied by her adult daughter.
Craig told the court that her client suffered through a traumatic childhood and that the fraud began after a relapse to this period. Court heard she “felt the need to buy things for people” in order to stay close to them.
According to the Dalhousie website, Smajda became an employee at the university’s medical school in 2002 and worked as an administrative assistant. The site also notes that Smajda worked for the Ontario government before moving to Halifax.
– with a report from CP