By Elesha George
A Belgian woman has been sentenced to 12 months’ probation for misappropriating almost EC$10,000 from local animal charity Paaws Antigua where she worked.
Louisa Woollard forged five cheques and made personal payments amounting to $9,635.65 when she was employed as a bookkeeper at the charity between January and December of 2017.
Woollard used that money to buy a TV worth $600, more than $1,200 worth of groceries at a supermarket, as well as to pay rent and utility bills amounting to more than $7,000.
In one instance she used a Paaws cheque to pay utility bills for a friend, amounting to $1,248.78, with the understanding, she said, that the friend would pay her back the money, which she would then return to the charity.
In handing down his verdict, Justice Iain Morley took several factors into consideration, including that the woman was the sole caretaker of three teenage children; that the court had no record of previous convictions for her; and that although her actions seemed calculated, the monies were not spent on extravagance but rather on basic needs.
The court heard that the defendant had been going through significant life changes in 2017, after having recovered from an alcohol addiction a year prior, getting a divorce which substantially reduced her standard of living and then having to care solely for her children.
The judge also read character references which were submitted by the woman’s lawyer, including one from the woman whose signature she forged.
Justice Morley said in his judgement that everyone who gave testimony to Woollard’s character corroborated that her behaviour in 2017 was “surprising and out of character”.
He lingered however on the element of breach of trust, noting that the mother-of-three had abused the charity’s trust by misusing its funds and had consequently caused it reputational damage.
“There’s also the expectation that people who steal money and are clever about it, go to jail,” he added.
During a brief statement, former Paaws manager, Rachel Wood, said the incident had made donors reluctant to give money and had led to bad publicity for the organisation, which runs a rescue and rehoming shelter for dogs and cats in Parham.
Wood told the court, “I just wish it didn’t have to come to something like this.”
Woollard has been ordered to repay more than $4,000 by next Friday, and the balance over the next 10 months. If she defaults on those payments before the end of her 12-month probation she is likely to face jail time.
The maximum number of years for the offence of forgery is 14 years, and a maximum of three years for larceny.
Woollard was charged in December 2017 after her employer noticed irregularities with the cheque books. Cheques were missing and a number of transactions were inconsistent and not authorised by Paaws.