Cornwall woman given discharge in welfare fraud case

(Newswatch Group/Bill Kingston, File)

CORNWALL – A Cornwall woman has been given a conditional discharge in a case of welfare fraud.

Katherine Scanlon, 35, pleaded guilty Monday in a Cornwall court to a single count of fraud under $5,000 for failing to declare changes in her living arrangements to the Ontario Works Resource Center.

In what was described to the court as “exceptional circumstances,” a plea to a lesser charge was accepted as Scanlon had been facing a more serious charge of fraud over $5,000.

It was part of a joint submission by the Crown and defence.

In addition to the plea, Scanlon will be on probation for 12 months, will have to take counselling if required, perform 40 hours of community service and make restitution to Ontario Works for $5,158.

A conditional discharge means Scanlon, who has no prior criminal record, won’t have a criminal conviction registered if she abides by her conditions during probation.

Assistant Crown Attorney Louise Charette told court Scanlon had applied for Ontario Works in April 2014 after exhausting her sick benefits with Employment Insurance.

“She stated she had been off work for some time and was awaiting open heart surgery,” Charette said.

The prosecutor explained benefits were started in May 2014. In May 2015, the matter was referred to eligibility review “alleging that Ms. Scanlon had returned to full-time employment in July 2014 and failed to report this.”

Defence lawyer Mally McGregor told court her client had suffered significant health problems.

“At the time she made her application to Ontario Works she was going through a number of health issues. She had heart surgery the day after her application,” McGregor said.

“She ultimately came in contact with the criminal justice system when she self-reported, in this case, so she realized that she should have not been receiving these benefits while she was earning employment and ultimately reported herself to Ontario Works to fix that, which I would suggest is mitigating,” McGregor stated.

McGregor indicated her client is remorseful for her actions and the $5,158 restitution has already been paid into her firm’s trust account.

Scanlon, who was crying, was surrounded by family members in the courtroom during her sentencing.

“I am truly sorry and that this will never happen again,” Scanlon said, when asked if she wanted to address the court.

“It is an exceptional result for someone in any form of fraud, leaving aside the nature of public assistance, where one has to repeat the action in essence every time one receives a payment one is compounding the issue,” Judge Gilles Renaud said. “But it is also, of course, very rare for an individual to have brought it to the attention of the authorities.”

“It’s (the sentence) not contrary to the public interest because she’s done everything she can to undo the harm. The bell has been rung, so to speak,” Renaud said.

The judge also took a couple moments to address welfare benefits.

“There are limited funds available to assist those who are going through a difficult period. There is an unfortunate stigma attached to the fact that people are receiving benefits to which we’re all entitled to by our citizenship,” Renaud said.

“When we are able to contribute, we contribute. If we go through a difficult period, we are entitled to assistance and that’s what was abused in this case. But it is a situation, in my view, there is no lasting damage for her individual situation,” Renaud said, in explaining the sentence is not contrary to the public interest.