A former employee of the Holland College student union has been sentenced to seven months in jail for stealing nearly $54,000.

Amanda Jean O'Connell, 37, was convicted of stealing more than $53,724 from the student union over a four-year period. She pleaded guilty to fraud and theft.

O'Connell stood and wept in Charlottetown Supreme Court Wednesday, as she apologized to her family, to the court and to students of Holland College.

"These were my friends ... I regret what my husband and family have gone through," she said.

In an agreed statement of facts read by Crown prosecutor John McMillan, the court heard O'Connell was hired by the Holland College student union in 2007 as the student life coordinator. But her job duties expanded to include financial management.  

O'Connell wrote cheques to herself, forged travel expenses, and dipped into a cash fund intended to help students in financial need. She used the money to pay bills and make repairs to her home.

After auditors were called in, she paid back $37,000 of the money she stole. 

O'Connell’s lawyer, Mitchell MacLeod, drew the court's attention to the auditor's finding that the student union — with $1 million-dollar budget — lacked sound guidelines for handling finances.

Greg Gairns, general manager of the Holland College student union, said those deficiencies have been fixed.

"With great support from the college, we've taken a lot of steps in re-doing our policies and procedures ... Getting annual audits, going through our auditors, having double checks with students,” he said.

Supreme Court Justice Wayne Cheverie said the crime showed a "degree of sophistication," and told O'Connell, "It is not open season to steal from your employer just because no one is looking over your shoulder."

The judge said O’Connell betrayed the trust placed in her by the student union but said he believed her remorse was sincere.

In addition to seven months in jail, the judge ordered two years probation and 200 hours of community service O'Connell. He also ordered her to pay back the remainder of the money she stole.