Nfld. & Labrador

Darlene Wheeler convicted of fraud in Gander rental scam

The woman behind a rental scam in central Newfoundland has been convicted of bilking thousands of dollars from half a dozen potential tenants in 2014.

Crown seeks jail time, defence makes submission for house arrest

Darlene Wheeler and her husband Clarence Wheeler are pictured at provincial court in St. John's on Sept. 8, 2017. (Rob Antle/CBC)

The woman behind a rental scam in Gander has been convicted of bilking thousands of dollars from half a dozen potential tenants in 2014.

Darlene Wheeler cried as she apologized to the judge for her actions. It was an unusual day at court, one that also saw her briefly fire her lawyer and disagree with a statement of facts she signed several months ago.

I'm very sorry for what I've done and I'm ashamed of what I did.- Darlene Wheeler

"Your honour, I'm very sorry for what I've done and I'm ashamed of what I did," Wheeler told the court.

"I promise you, or any judge, that you'll never see me in front of a courtroom again."

The Crown is seeking jail time, while the defence is suggesting house arrest.

Wheeler will be sentenced next week.

'Patently stupid scheme'

In court filings, Wheeler admitted to taking cash for rental deposits from six potential tenants for space in a house in Gander three years ago.

Wheeler lived in the house, but didn't actually own it.

She took their money — nearly $3,800 in total — but didn't return it, even though none of them ever lived in the accommodations they paid to rent.

Wheeler's lawyer, Jason Edwards, called it "a patently stupid scheme — it was one that was bound to be caught," but he stressed that his client hasn't been in trouble with the law in the three years since.

This Melville Place home was at the centre of a rental scam in Gander that led to a fraud conviction for Darlene Wheeler. (CBC)

He suggested that means rehabilitation is an option for her, even though she has a 15-page record for past related offences. Those offences date back more than a decade.

The defence lawyer said he believes 12 months of house arrest would be an appropriate sentence.

Crown suggests jail time

In her sentencing submissions, Crown lawyer Dana Sullivan highlighted Wheeler's prior convictions as an aggravating factor.

"She's been committing frauds for quite some time," Sullivan told the court.

She's been committing frauds for quite some time.- Crown lawyer Dana Sullivan

Sullivan suggested jail time of five to six months for the half-dozen fraud convictions related to the rental scam, plus another two to three months for the unrelated offence of passing bad cheques in 2010.

She highlighted the "breach of trust between landlord and tenant" in outlining the seriousness of the rental scam offence.

Both sides agreed Wheeler should pay restitution as part of any sentence.

Defence lawyer fired, then rehired

Wheeler's sentencing hearing took an unusual twist when her lawyer made a declaration to the court after a break.

"We have a problem, your honour," Edwards told the judge. "I've been fired."

Edwards indicated that Wheeler disagreed with the statement of facts entered in the matter — a statement of facts Wheeler had signed herself several months earlier.

After the judge indicated the hearing would proceed anyway, Wheeler agreed to continued representation by Edwards.

The case has been working its way through the system for nearly three years.

Wheeler will be back in court next week, when Judge Lori Marshall is scheduled to deliver her sentencing decision.

About the Author

Rob Antle

CBC News

Rob Antle is producer for CBC's investigative unit in Newfoundland and Labrador.