Former Babe's Honey boss nets 3-year prison term for fraud

The former head of Babe’s Honey Farm on the Saanich Peninsula has been sentenced to three years in prison and ordered to pay close to $1 million in restitution for defrauding clients in his accounting practice — people he once treated as friends.

Ernest Mark Pitcher, 57, purported to be an accountant and persuaded clients that he was trustworthy, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Robert Johnston said Monday. “Having done that, he violated that trust over and over and over again for years.”

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Clients gave Pitcher cheques made out to the Receiver General of Canada to pay taxes owing for their companies. Pitcher used those cheques to pay monies owed to the Receiver General for firms that he owned or controlled, Johnston said.

Court heard that Pitcher was convicted of fraud involving more than $1,000 in 1993.

Monday’s sentencing followed an April guilty plea by Pitcher on one count of defrauding a group of clients of $956,945 in total, between April 2004 and May 2010. They are Island Marine Construction Services Ltd., Richard J. Wey and Associates Land Surveying Inc. and/or Kinsey Point Holdings Inc., Troy Electric Sales and Service Ltd., JK Restorations Ltd. doing business as Goodbye Graffiti, Advance Group Conference Management Inc., and Richard and Karen Wey.

Outside the courtroom, Ross Walker, Island Marine Construction owner, called the sentence “pretty minimal.” The company’s loss totalled $536,520.

Walker told the court that his family socialized with Pitcher and even attended Pitcher’s daughter’s wedding.

It was Island Marine’s new bookkeeper who discovered in 2010 that there was an accounting problem, which led to an investigation and charges. Walker said he also lost money by investing in ventures, including Babe’s Honey Farm, promoted by Pitcher.

Babe’s Honey is operating today under different ownership.

Richard Wey, who lost $448,381, said he spent 35 years building his company’s reputation. “I feel absolutely violated by Mark Pitcher.”

It was in 2006 that Wey was diagnosed with cancer, which he battled for several years. And it was in 2006 when Pitcher started taking money from the firm, Wey said.

After recovering from his illness, Wey had hoped to sell his company and retire. But after the charges against Pitcher became public, the potential purchaser changed his mind, court heard.

“He stole my reputation, he stole $400,000, and he stole my retirement.”

“Words alone can not describe what I’ve gone through. My life will be forever changed.”

Pitcher controlled directly or indirectly Babe’s Honey, ABCN Technology Inc., Oregon Creek (Canada) Corp. and Pitcher and Associates Public Accountants, according to Crown prosecutor Richard Fowler’s submission.

The Crown and Robert Jones, who represented Pitcher, submitted an agreed-upon statement of facts and recommended a three-year sentence.

Pitcher does not hold a professional designation as an accountant, Fowler said.

Jones said that Pitcher was born in Saskatchewan and moved to Nanaimo at age 10. He served in the Canadian Navy, studied at Simon Fraser University and earned a master’s degree in divinity in Alberta.

Funds from clients did not go to support an extravagant lifestyle, Jones said. Several thousand dollars were donated to community causes. “He is a better thief than he is a businessman,” Jones said.

Pitcher, who is in bankruptcy, has been working in Fort Nelson and has qualified as a Red Seal chef, earning a $75,000 annual salary, Jones said. He has been living on a modest income because the bulk of it goes towards debts.

After being released from prison, “he would be in a position to earn an income and make restitution,” Jones said.

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