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Hundreds bilked in charity scam

A year in jail, another year on probation and a stern lecture from a judge are the rewards for a Red Deer man who used charitable donations to line his own pockets.

Philip Wiggins, 37, was arrested on Dec. 22 by Red Deer RCMP investigating complaints that someone was canvassing donations for the Canadian Cancer Society but was not handing in the money.

Appearing by closed-circuit TV from the Calgary Remand Centre, Wiggins pleaded guilty in Red Deer provincial court on Tuesday to 130 charges of fraud and one of theft under $5,000. The fraud occurred in both Red Deer and Lacombe. Dozens more charges of both theft and fraud were withdrawn.

Judge Jim Hunter issued a harsh reprimand after passing sentence, calling Wiggins’s actions morally reprehensible and repugnant.

“The fact that people are willing to donate is based on trust,” said Hunter. “There are very few people in our society whose families have not been touched by cancer. It is an insidious disease as people who donate to the cancer society understand.

“You breached that trust in large measure.”

In an investigation that continued after Wiggins’s arrest, Red Deer RCMP and Lacombe Police ultimately determined that 2,585 people in their respective areas had handed over cheques and cash totalling nearly $40,000, believing the money was going to the cancer society, said Crown prosecutor Murray McPherson.

The initial complaint was made by a donor who called the Red Deer office of the Canadian Cancer Society, wondering why a cheque had not cleared.

Police learned that Wiggins had been told to stop canvassing prior to his arrest, including one occasion in which donors had complained to the Red Deer office that he was asking for cash instead of cheques.

The cancer society had ordered Wiggins on a separate occasion to quit canvassing because of a national directive for the society to cease door to door campaigning, said McPherson.

Wiggins continued to collect money at people’s doorways even after being told to stop, he said.

Wiggins had canvassed successfully in two previous years and had received a letter of support from the cancer society for a fundraising project he had proposed, he said.

In their initial investigation, Red Deer RCMP seized cash, cheques and pledge sheets from Wiggins’s home, adding to a total of $10,708.75 in donations, including about $2,021 in cheques and missing $8,627.75 in cash.

Lacombe police determined that Wiggins stole $1,569.79 from donors in their jurisdiction, laying a single charge of theft under for the total, along with 89 additional charges of theft and fraud tied to the individual donations.

Weighing an early guilty plea against Wiggins’s past criminal record, which includes fraud, drug possession and assault, McPherson and defence counsel Walter Kubanek joined in seeking a sentence of one year in prison followed by an additional year of probation with strict conditions, including that Wiggins be prohibited from canvassing for charity.

Hunter also ordered that Wiggins not be allowed to volunteer in any capacity for any charity or community group.

He said it “boggles the mind” how someone could put so much effort into such an act.

Hunter directed that all property seized from Wiggins during the investigation be turned over to the Canadian Cancer Society.

bkossowan@reddeeradvocate.com

 

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