Saskatchewan

Alena Pastuch receives 7-year prison sentence for multi-million dollar fraud scheme

Alena Pastuch has received a seven-year prison sentence for stealing millions of dollars. She promised investors child protection software, but instead used the money to fund a lavish lifestyle.

Judge says greed motivated Pastuch as she spent money on lavish lifestyle

Alena Pastuch shielding her face from cameras as she entered court last year. (CBC)

Convicted fraudster Alena Pastuch has been sentenced to seven years in prison for scamming about 80 people out of $5.5 million. 

The people, or corporations, thought they were investing in Cryptguard Project and Strikeback Project — apparent software technology that would protect children. 

Instead, Pastuch used most of the money to live a lavish lifestyle and present an image of success beyond reality. The court found she was preoccupied with luxury vehicles, high-end hotels, expensive clothes and hairstyling. 

It is hard for normal, law-abiding people to even imagine anyone going to such great lengths and stealing from family.- victim impact statement

Justice Richard Elson said of her motivation that "the court has little doubt that greed played a significant role. 

"This motive appears to have completely overwhelmed whatever morale compass the offender may have had." 

He noted the magnitude of the case — $5.5 million taken from 80 people, diverted through 27 bank accounts and credit cards. The case filled seven bankers boxes and the trial lasted five months.

The investments happened between 2007 and 2009. Pastuch was charged by RCMP in 2014.

In June, she was found guilty of fraud, money laundering and theft. 

A lone victim in court 

Elson wasn't surprised to see a near-empty courtroom. The financial victims lost their money more than a decade ago.  Garnet Peterson was the only one in attendance. 

"It's been a number of years and I just felt that I had to be here just to hear it, and know that the end is here," he said. Peterson declined to share how much he invested, but shared his relief at the conclusion. He also expressed his dismay. He imparted what he's learned from this experience: if it sounds too good to be true, than it probably is. 

"Turn back the clock, it'd be different. But, I can't, so we have to move on."

Brule presented several victim impact statements during sentencing submissions Thursday.

They told tales of shame, embarrassment and damaged relationships. Elson said they paint a picture of "human tragedy and devastation." He noted those who bought into Pastuch's promises were not sophisticated investors rather many were elderly folk with modest savings that are now lost. 

Elson noted that beyond financial returns, the investors were attracted to the idea of protecting children with the Strikeback software described to them. 

Out $1.26 million 

While many people were out thousands of dollars, one couple was hit the hardest with a loss of $1.26 million. 

They worked for 35 years and had hoped to travel, help their family and do charity work. In their victim impact statement, they wrote about selling the family farm for something that "went up in smoke." 

"It was all a figment of her imagination," they wrote. "It is hard for normal, law-abiding people to even imagine anyone going to such great lengths and stealing from family." 

It took several months for the loss to sink in. It took longer for them to overcome the feelings of "having been so stupid." "It shook our confidence to the very core and I don't know that we will ever totally recover."

Elson noted mitigating factor was conspicuously absent: Pastuch's expression of remorse. 

He noted that while she issued a short apology — while hunched over and by video link — on Thursday, she consistently blamed other people during the trial. 

"I find it difficult to believe that the offender truly acknowledges the dishonesty of her actions and the harm they caused. This is despite the overwhelming evidence of culpable dishonesty." 

Pastuch could face more jail time

Pastuch was sentenced to seven years and three months, however, she'll receive credit for three months of remand time. He recommended that part of her sentence be served at the regional psychiatric centre in Saskatoon, but that's not a binding order. 

Elson also ordered Pastuch full restitution to the victims. She has also been ordered to pay a fine in lieu of forfeiture, also in the amount of $5,523,507. 

"Even if it ends up just being symbolic it's part and parcel of holding an accused accountable," Brule said. 

Pastuch has 12 years from the time of her release to pay this amount back. If she doesn't pay it back, she will serve an additional five years. 

"Today the court agreed with the crown that white collar crime in Saskatchewan is going to be treated severely. Harshly, for frauds over a million dollars," Brule said.

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