The mayor of Leaf Rapids, Man., says she can't believe she's been charged with fraud, forgery and theft of mail.
RCMP announced Wednesday it has laid 28 charges against Geraldine Cockerill, 56, who has been mayor of the northern Manitoba town since the fall of 2010.
According to police, Cockerill was working at the post office in Leaf Rapids when several complaints were made to RCMP in May 2010 by Canada Post and federal Employment and Income Assistance officials.
Investigators found "a number of fraudulent transactions occurred between December 2009 and April 2010, including forged signatures on Employment and Income Assistance cards and cheques," RCMP stated in a release.
Cockerill told CBC News while she cannot discuss details of the case, she believes it's a misunderstanding involving one individual who no longer lives in Leaf Rapids.
Cockerill said she has been co-operating with RCMP, but she can't believe she has been charged.
"This all started two years and eight months ago. That's how long it has taken them to come up with any little thing that they have," she said.
The charges Cockerill faces include:
- Four counts of fraud under $5,000.
- Eight counts of uttering a forged document.
- Eight counts of forgery.
- Eight counts of theft from mail.
She is scheduled to appear in court on March 20.
Cockerill said she is innocent, and she believes most of the 450 residents of Leaf Rapids will support her, so she intends to stay on as mayor while she fights the charges.
"I'm an honest person, I'm very helpful to people, so that's how I got in as mayor," she said.
"It's all the people that got me in there that know exactly what I'm like and know that this is bullshit."
Under Manitoba's Municipal Act, elected officials who are charged with an offence are presumed innocent until proven guilty.
If any municipal official in Manitoba is convicted of an offence that carries a sentence of five years or more in prison, that person would be disqualified from holding office.
Since Cockerill has not been convicted of anything, she does not have to step down as mayor at this time, according to provincial officials.
Resident Viola Cook said news of Cockerill's arrest has rocked the community.
"I think that a lot of people are still trying to grasp at the idea, trying to let it sink in that … this is really what's happening with our mayor," she said.
The town of Leaf Rapids is located about 750 kilometres by air northwest of Winnipeg.