Nfld. & Labrador

Businesswoman Anne Squires sentenced to 2 years less a day behind bars

More than four years after the collapse of Exit Realty on the Rock, former owner Anne Squires has been sentenced for fraud, forgery, theft and breach of trust.

Former Exit Realty on the Rock owner guilty of fraud, forgery, theft and breach of trust

Anne Squires awaits the start of court proceedings Thursday afternoon at Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court in St. John's. She was sentenced to two years less a day in jail. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

Anne Squires, the former high-flying businesswoman who presided over the Exit Realty on the Rock empire, has been sentenced to two years less a day for stealing from her now-defunct firm and defrauding a payday loan-style company that serves the real estate industry.

"Ms. Squires made a conscious decision to engage in ongoing criminal conduct," Justice Robert Stack said in his sentencing decision at Supreme Court in St. John's on Thursday.

He pointed out that the criminal acts were not carried out "in a moment of weakness," and called them "acts of deception."

The judge also noted several mitigating factors, including her lack of prior criminal record, success in her new career in the hospitality industry in a coastal community, and a pre-sentence report that found her to be a low risk to reoffend.

"The guilty plea shows that Ms. Squires has taken responsibility for her actions," Stack said.

Sheriff's officers lead a handcuffed Squires out of court Thursday afternoon, after Squires was sentenced for fraud, theft, forgery and breach of trust. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

He did take issue with a half-hour-long statement Squires gave to the court at a hearing this summer, describing it as "an effort to shift the blame" for the downfall of her business and her criminal activities, which the judge attributed to "hubris and greed."

Squires was led out of court in handcuffs to immediately begin her sentence, which includes a restitution order to repay more than $500,000 to AccessEasyFunds, the payday-loan style company she defrauded.

The Crown had asked for a sentence of three years, while the defence wanted eight months.

Stack said that two years less a day gives Squires a "reasonable prospect for a fresh start."

Investigation started in 2016

The judge's decision effectively brings down the curtain on a drama that began 4½ years ago.

In early 2016, the province suspended Exit Realty on the Rock's licence amid allegations of financial irregularities. The company collapsed into receivership, and the police swooped in.

Charges were laid nine months later, and Squires initially maintained her innocence.

But last year, Squires admitted that she misappropriated funds from the company's trust accounts, stole from Exit Realty on the Rock, and defrauded AccessEasyFunds of roughly half a million dollars related to 33 fake property deals.

Over the span of a dozen years before the company's collapse, Squires built Exit Realty on the Rock from a fledgling startup to a high-profile player that employed 66 real estate agents.

Exit Realty on the Rock had its licence suspended by the Newfoundland and Labrador government on Feb. 4, 2016. It collapsed into receivership, then bankruptcy. (CBC)

But the boom went bust.

As of last year, the bankrupt company had unpaid debts totalling $1.8 million on the books, with more than 160 creditors having no hope of repayment.

Industry groups said the lessons learned from the Exit Realty on the Rock debacle helped inform a process to spark legislative change.

At a sentencing hearing in July, Squires spoke extensively to the court about business decisions and pressures that she believes contributed to the company's downfall.

In 2012, she was named a Top 50 CEO in Atlantic Canada. But just three years later, Squires couldn't use any of the cards in her wallet to buy an ice cream for her granddaughter.

Soon after, the behind-the-scenes financial woes became public, and Exit Realty on the Rock abruptly shuttered.

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