Woman who swindled seniors jailed

A Red Deer woman who swindled seniors and others of thousands of dollars to feed her drug addiction has been sentenced to two and a half years in prison and three years of probation.

A Red Deer woman who swindled seniors and others of thousands of dollars to feed her drug addiction has been sentenced to two and a half years in prison and three years of probation.

Theresa Sutherland, 51, pleaded guilty in Red Deer provincial court on Wednesday to multiple counts of fraud, theft and forgery for crimes that Judge Bill Andreasson termed a “spree.”

Sutherland deceived a number of people into giving her money on a variety of pretexts, used stolen cheques to repay her debts and forged her and her common-law husband’s names onto cheques that had been given to her to pay their bills, special prosecutor Tony Bell said in his submissions to the court on Wednesday.

Her victims include an 84-year-old businessman, Bryan Swainson, whose losses totalled $510,000, said Bell.

Along with the deceit she used to squeeze Swainson’s bank account, Sutherland pleaded guilty to using a variety of tactics on other victims.

Bell said she befriended convenience store clerk Carlene Weber and was soon visiting her at work five to six times a day, asking for money under the pretence that she was being treated for cancer and that her expenses weren’t covered. She promised Weber that her mother would pay her back, said Bell.

Weber has not been repaid for the $4,500 she gave Sutherland between Jan. 1 and May 31, 2008, said Bell.

Other victims include business owner Jamie Wagner, whose shipment of blank cheques was stolen and then used to pay various people who had helped Sutherland. Those cheques were not honoured by the bank.

Additional cheques that Sutherland received from Swainson to pay bills and rent were cashed at Money Mart, after the amounts and “payable to” portions were altered. One cheque that was supposed to be used to pay their rent was instead made payable to the husband and the amount was changed from $600 to $1,600, said Bell.

Bell termed Sutherland’s scheme as “unsophisticated” and “persistent,” affecting multiple victims over an extended period of time.

He noted her 57 prior convictions on similar offences in asking for a global sentence of two and a half years.

Represented by Red Deer lawyer Patrick Penny, Sutherland ultimately pleaded guilty to fraud, theft, forgery, possession of stolen property and breaching release conditions.

Penny pointed out that his client’s decision to plead guilty rather than proceed to trial should be a significant factor in sentencing, in part because the Crown’s case was at risk due to the advanced age of some of the witnesses.

Two to three years down the road, those witnesses may no longer be available to testify, said Penny.

Andreasson sentenced Sutherland to 18 months in jail and three years probation for the money she took from Weber, to run concurrently with a sentence of two and a half years on the additional charges.

Andreasson said the sentence recommendation proposed by Bell and Penny was at the very bottom of the scale, but felt he could accept it because of factors including Sutherland’s guilty plea and her desire to seek help for her addictions.

Co-accused in the scheme, her common-law husband, Kevin Sveinson, 58, returns to court on Jan. 8 to deal with the charges facing him.

Sutherland and Sveinson were both arrested early last week on charges of breaching release conditions. Sveinson was granted bail but was still in custody on Wednesday because he had not yet come up with the $500 cash he must pay the court before he can be released.