Bookkeeper who stole $2.2M given 4 1/2 years

VANCOUVER — Grace Angela Palmer, who pleaded guilty to stealing $2.2 million from Vision Plastics Inc., the Langley-based company she worked for, has been sentenced to 4 1/2 years in prison.

In August last year, the 45-year-old former bookkeeper and office administrator pleaded guilty to one count of fraud over $5,000 in relation to offences committed during her time at the company, which employs 50 people making plastic bottles and containers.

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From 2001 to 2012, Palmer stole a total of $2,208,714, most of that amount coming from payroll overpayments made out to her and the remainder consisting of unauthorized payments to her or persons or entities to her benefit.

Management was alerted to accounting discrepancies during the course of union negotiations and, when suspicions were raised, Palmer appeared to take steps to clear out her office. She hired a document shredding company to bring in a container and a shredder that she used to shred documents for nearly two weeks before she was suspended from her job.

Palmer was dismissed two weeks later, in September 2012.

The Crown told a sentencing hearing that the amount identified as being stolen might not be the total amount because company records did not go back to 1996 when she started her employment.

In a victim impact statement, the company’s co-owner said he felt a “profound sense of betrayal” by the crimes committed by Palmer. In addition, the court heard that the company incurred substantial expense to investigate the matter and help RCMP.

At the hearing, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Murray Blok was told by the lawyers that it was not clear where all of the money that was stolen went.

“Some went to support a failing business run by her brother and a lot went into personal purchases,” Blok said. “It was not spent on such things as addictions or gambling. The upshot, however, is that all of the money is gone.”

The judge said the aggravating factors included the enormous amount of money taken, among the highest in such fraud cases, and the lengthy period of the offences. “To this aggravating circumstance I would include the number of fraudulent transactions carried out and the deliberate and at least moderately complex steps needed both to carry them out and to conceal them.”

Palmer, who has no prior criminal record, apologized in court and said she deeply regretted her actions and the pain she had caused and also said she had made changes to her life and is now “going down the path God would like me to.”

But the judge said it was not clear to him that Palmer was genuinely remorseful for her actions, noting that her initial reactions expressed to a psychologist were of the “blame the victim” type.

The judge ordered Palmer to pay $2.2 million in restitution.

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