Manitoba cheerleading coach who stole $50K from non-profits gets 9 months jail

A Manitoba cheerleading coach who bilked two small non-profit organizations out of thousands of dollars to fund her lifestyle has lost her bid to avoid real jail and will spend nine months behind bars for theft.

Kelsi Holmberg, 26, used most of the money to support her lifestyle, judge finds

The outside of Winnipeg's law courts building in the fall of 2019.
A provincial court judge has denied a woman who stole from non-profits a chance to serve her jail sentence conditionally at home. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

A Manitoba cheerleading coach who bilked two small non-profit organizations out of thousands of dollars to fund her lifestyle has lost her bid to avoid real jail and will spend nine months behind bars for theft. 

Kelsi Holmberg, 26, pleaded guilty in provincial court to stealing from what was then Manitoba Cheer Foundation (now Cheer Manitoba) and the Manitoba Association of Celtic Sports (MACS) where she was volunteer treasurer. She became treasurer of the Cheer Foundation in 2017 and MACS in 2015.

Over a 17-month period from early 2018 to mid-2019, Holmberg wrote cheques to herself, e-transferred funds and withdrew cash, mostly from the Cheer Foundation but later from MACS as well.

Prosecutors described the thefts as Holmberg making "185 choices to be dishonest," Judge Rocky Pollack said in a June 29 decision released last week.

She used some of what she stole from MACS to repay what she stole from the Cheer Foundation. The rest went to groceries, liquor, taxis and collection agencies, the judge said.

"For about a year and a half, this offender benefited by pocketing over $45,000 from the two organizations," he said. 

"As a young adult, she no longer wished to live with her parents but needed to support herself in the lifestyle to which she had been accustomed while living at home," Pollack said. 

Holmberg had neither addictions issues nor "exceptional circumstances" in which she needed the money, the judge said.

"It is therefore my conclusion that this was a series of transactions that the offender treated as a convenience fund for her lifestyle," he said. 

"It appears that she simply took advantage of the fact that the degree of trust she enjoyed was very high and she was subject to little scrutiny," the judge said.

"When attempts were made to scrutinize, however, she was able to stall and deflect until others in the victim associations went to the bank to hear the startling news that their funds were gone." 

Cheer Foundation volunteers said they lost the confidence of members and the organization's rented premises as a result of the thefts, Pollack said.

"The MACS president spoke of how a personal friend betrayed not only the association but the Scottish community." 

Holmberg, who had no criminal record, argued she should be allowed to serve her jail time conditionally at home under conditions. She turned herself in in 2020 when she found out police were looking for her and was on good behaviour while waiting to deal with her case, Pollack said. 

While Pollack agreed sending her to real jail wasn't really necessary and would not help the victims get their money back, her abuse of trust was a major issue. 

"What a sentence of incarceration will promote is a sense of gravity of the thefts … as well as a statement of the serious harm done to the victims and, as a foreseeable result, to the community at large," he said. 

Partial restitution paid 

Holmberg's parents refinanced their home in order to make a partial restitution payment before the sentencing hearing, Pollack said. 

A longtime cheerleading coach to kindergarten to Grade 12 students, Holmberg didn't take up volunteering with the Manitoba Cheer Foundation and MACS with a plan to steal from them, he said. 

"I am satisfied that she joined the victim organizations as a volunteer and without a plan to eventually become treasurer so that she could steal," he said.

Corrections officials described Holmberg as a very low risk to reoffend. 

She will serve three years of supervised probation upon her release from jail. Among her conditions is she must not be responsible for a person or organization's money without disclosing her criminal record and obtaining her probation officer's permission. 

As well, she has to write letters to the victimized organizations "expressing any thoughts" she has after serving her time and also work up a plan for how she'll pay the rest of the stolen money back, Pollack said.

In a statement to members on Facebook, Cheer Manitoba acknowledged Holmberg's admission of guilt and sentencing. 

"We would like to thank everyone for their patience and their continued support as we navigated through this betrayal and financial hardship," the statement said.