Brittany Osborne pleads guilty to nationwide pet scams, sentenced to 33 months in prison
Harbour Grace woman pleads guilty to 24 charges, including fraud and identity fraud
A Newfoundland and Labrador woman has been handed a federal sentence for her role in a rash of pet scams that affected victims across Canada.
Brittany Cora Lynn Osborne, 26, appeared in Harbour Grace provincial court on Thursday by video link from the Clarenville prison.
She pleaded guilty to 24 charges, including fraud and identity fraud, for posing as two different dog breeders from Quebec and Ontario, in a series of elaborate schemes.
Osborne — who also goes by her maiden name, Mahaney — was sentenced to 33 months in prison, minus time served. There are 802 days (more than two years) remaining in her sentence.
She was arrested on June 26, the day after CBC Investigates reported on claims from multiple people from across the country who said they paid hundreds of dollars in e-transfers for puppies they never received.
The court heard that Osborne accepted email money transfers from victims in Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia, ranging from $250 to $1,570, from Dec. 9, 2019, up until her arrest.
The money was accepted as deposits on animals, including Bengal kittens to golden doodles, that didn't exist.
Communicated via texting app
In some cases, once the first deposit was sent, Osborne would text to say she needed more money to help pay for the animal's vet bills — and unsuspecting buyers would send more cash electronically.
Police believe Osborne used a texting app to generate various phone numbers from across the country to further legitimize her location when texting or calling interested buyers.
Osborne would also supply a handwritten receipt, and sometimes a handwritten contract. Upon inspection, police investigating Osborne said that the handwriting on the receipts matched hers.
In several cases, Osborne also posed as two dog breeders and supplied their Canadian Kennel Club certificates. She also supplied one of the breeders' passport photos.
Police searched Osborne's residence on the same day that she was arrested.
They found handwritten receipts for deposits, signed with different aliases; a notebook with a list of phone numbers that were used to contact victims; a cellphone with text messages from people looking for dogs; and a list of 23 people who would accept EMTs on her behalf.
They also found handwritten receipts, dated June 21 to 26, with deposits for dogs totalling $3,000.
When she was arrested, Osborne told police she would plead guilty, and that she couldn't remember all the names of the victims she found on Kijiji because there had been so many.
In addition to the guilty pleas related to pet scams, Osborne pleaded guilty to previous unrelated charges of extortion, and for taking money for rental properties in St. John's and Halifax that didn't exist.
Lawyers give joint recommendation for sentencing
The Crown's submissions noted Osborne had two prior convictions but this was her first time in jail.
Osborne pleaded guilty to charges related to 12 victims — most of which were related to pet scams — with a total of $11,370 taken from them.
She was originally facing 55 charges. The rest of those charges were withdrawn by the Crown.
The Crown and defence put forward a joint recommendation of 33 months in prison, with restitution for the individuals, and a DNA order.
The Crown attorney said identity fraud and extortion are considered serious offences, and that a significant degree of planning went into the frauds.
The Crown said the sentence may seem steep but it's a fair one.
Meanwhile, defence lawyer Emily Ryan said Osborne entered her guilty pleas early on in the process. Ryan said Osborne is a "longtime drug addict" and was "hyper-focused on funding that addiction."
Osborne has been incarcerated since June — and says she has been sober ever since.
The defence lawyer said Osborne has gained 30 pounds, is working toward her high school equivalency certificate and is availing herself of behaviour therapy and addictions and trauma counselling.
Judge Paul Noble said, "She looks a lot healthier today than when I first saw her [in court]."
'I will be sorry for the rest of my life'
Osborne read a prepared statement to the court, saying she is "so very sorry" and takes full responsibility for her actions.
She said she had a troubled childhood. On top of a rough upbringing, Osborne said she suffers from PTSD, ADHD and personality disorders and wants to make use of rehabilitation programs that will be available to her as a federal inmate.
"You will never see me in this courtroom again," Osborne said. "I will be sorry for the rest of my life."
The judge said Canadians have become accustomed to e-commerce, but said people with ulterior motives prey on others with these types of transactions for personal gain.
"Any one of us could fall victim to a scam," Noble said, noting such calculated actions cause pain and financial loss to individuals.
The judge said he found Osborne's comments to be heartfelt and sincere. He said she is young and appears committed to bettering herself, overcoming her addictions and advancing her education.
Noble said the 33-month sentence serves as deterrence and encourages rehabilitation.
No probation order was given, because of the length of the sentence.
"I think you're a capable person," Noble said, adding he hopes she uses her skills and intelligence in the future to become a contributing member of society.
He also said he hopes, in time, she can gain employment, and start to repay all the people that she took money from.
Due to her extortion conviction, Osborne will also have to submit her DNA to a national databank.