A St. John's man who stole thousands of dollars in fares from the Bell Island ferries has avoided jail time.

David Whalen, 44, pleaded guilty Friday to taking almost $9,000 from August 2012 to January 2013.

At the time, Whalen was working for the courier company Millenium Express. He would drive to the dock in Portugal Cove-St. Philip's where he'd pick up the deposit bags full of cash collected from ferry passengers.

He was supposed to take all the money to a Royal Bank branch on Elizabeth Avenue. But Whalen didn't always do that. Sometimes he kept some for himself.

Eventually, someone spotted a discrepancy between the deposit slips held by the bank and the courier company.

Confessed when confronted

Confronted by police, Whalen confessed to taking about $5,000, but later agreed it was in the range of $9,000. Investigators suspected he stole more than that, but admitted they couldn't prove it.

Whalen told the court he began stealing after the traumatic experience of discovering his girlfriend of 14 years dead on their bathroom floor. She had died following an apparent asthma attack.

He said her death was devastating, and he began abusing cocaine to deal with the grief. Whalen said he became addicted and needed money to feed his habit.

Whalen was asked by provincial court Judge Lori Marshall how he's dealing with his grief today.

"I'm kind of at peace with all of it," he replied.

After a joint submission by the Crown and defence, Whalen was sentenced to six months' house arrest and 18 months' probation. He was also given two years to pay back the roughly $9,000 he stole.

Whalen later told CBC he wanted to apologize to the provincial government, which operates the ferry service, his former employer Millenium Express, RBC, the court, and anyone else affected by his actions.

He also promised never to steal again.