British Columbia

Stole $460K, UBC staffer sentenced to house arrest

A former University of B.C. financial manager has been sentenced to two years of house arrest for stealing $460,000 from a university medical department.

Judge openly criticizes court delays in B.C. judicial system

A former University of B.C. financial manager has been sentenced to two years of house arrest for stealing $460,000 from a university medical department.

The sentence, handed down by a Richmond, B.C., provincial court judge Friday followed an emotional apology from the accused, John Mwotassubi, and an angry outburst from the bench against systemic delays in B.C.'s court system.

"I am embarrassed to have to do things like that," Judge Ronald Fratkin  said of the delays. "It's terrible. We should be embarrassed by it. We should be ashamed of ourselves."

Mwotassubi, 42, pleaded guilty in October to theft over $5,000 for stealing the $460,000 over the course of seven years while working out of BC Children's Hospital as a financial manager for the pediatrics department.

He wrote 75 fraudulent cheques to a consulting company that he owned.

University policy at the time required two signatures to approve such transactions, but the Crown said Mwotassubi used his position to circumvent the rules.

He was caught in the summer of 2010 when UBC installed a new program designed to detect employee fraud. Mwotassubi confessed immediately after auditors confronted him.

In court, he wept openly, apologizing to the university, the public and colleagues, blaming the theft on debt incurred through student loans.

"I'd like to plead for lenience, your honour," he asked Fratkin. "Please allow me the opportunity to turn my life around."

The Crown had asked for a prison term of about two and a-half years, saying Mwotassubi stole money from both the university and the hospital's young patients.

Mwotassubi's lawyer, Michael Shapray, said his client has paid back $170,000 by selling his house.

As part of his sentence, he'll have to pay the rest of the money to UBC's insurance agency as well as a $50,000 deductible.

'Scarlet letter'

Shapray raised the issue of court delays as a mitigating factor in sentencing, which was originally scheduled for Wednesday.

With the possibility of a jail sentence looming, Shapray told Fratkin Mwotassubi said goodbye that morning to his three-year-old daughter not knowing when he'd see her again.

"That delay in sentencing on Wednesday had a dramatic impact on my client," Shapray said.

Fratkin told him to "face West" to Victoria and make his complaints known to the BC government. The judge noted that more than a dozen of Mwotassubi's friends and family took Wednesday off, hoping to support him. Only a handful returned on Friday.

Fratkin said he had to delay a total of four cases — all of which involved the potential of jail sentences.

"It's totally unfair to people," Fratkin said. "I have never been a fan of 'I don't care, too bad, or let it rot.'"

The judge ultimately decided Mwotassubi merited a conditional sentence of two years less a day, to be served under house arrest. He said publicity surrounding his crimes will serve as its own form of denunciation.

"It's the scarlet letter that you wear," Fratkin said. "’He's the guy that stole the money from the Children's Hospital.’ That's how he'll be remembered."

With files from the CBC's Jason Proctor