A former councillor of Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish Nation) who defrauded the Nation out of over $855,000 has been sent to prison for four years for her crimes.
Judge Lyndsay Smith handed the jail sentence to former Nation co-chair and department head Krisandra Lenore Jacobs, 58, Friday morning in North Vancouver provincial court.
Jacobs was sentenced after being found guilty of charges of fraud and theft over $5,000 from the Squamish Nation 11 months ago, following a lengthy trial.
Smith said Jacobs’s breach of the trust placed in her as both an elected councillor and high-level employee of the nation called for a jail sentence to act as a deterrent. That is needed to protect “not just the Squamish Nation but all such nations” vulnerable to similar crimes, the judge said.
The judge noted Squamish Nation has no hope of getting back any of the nearly $1 million Jacobs stole, and the forensic audit that eventually led to the RCMP investigation and charges had cost the nation a significant amount.
Jacobs was in “a position of full power and privilege” yet took advantage of that to take money from funds intended for the most vulnerable in the community, the judge said.
“It appears to be the community view that incarceration is required,” Smith said.
At the time of the fraud, between April 2011 and May 2014, Jacobs was one of two people in charge of an emergency fund meant as a fund of last resort for Squamish Nation members in need. Usually, requests for emergency assistance came through legitimate channels and were backed up with proper documentation afterwards.
But during the trial, several witnesses who worked in the Nation’s finance department described how Jacobs had set up an additional “shadow process” that she used to circumvent those controls, often calling in employees on weekends to issue cheques to her.
In finding Jacobs guilty, the judge said Jacobs had deliberately crafted a scheme whereby she used her powerful position in the Nation’s political structure to bypass financial checks and balances and obtain money for her own purposes.
The judge noted that Jacobs’s fraud was committed over a long period of time and with considerable effort and planning, involving 422 cheques.
After the first time she used a cheque for her own purposes, Jacobs had “421 opportunities to reflect on what she had done ... and not do it again,” the judge said.
Smith added that “poverty and desperation” did not drive Jacobs to commit her crimes.
In a victim impact statement submitted during an earlier sentencing hearing, Khelsilem, spokesperson for Squamish Nation, wrote the impact of Jacobs’s crimes have been long-lasting, with many thousands of dollars no longer available to help the most vulnerable members of the community. Her actions also divided the community, he wrote.
In the same sentencing hearing this fall, defence lawyer John Turner argued that Jacobs should receive a lighter sentence – two years in jail – because her fraud was committed as a result of a gambling addiction, which he described as the “overriding factor” in her crimes.
A spreadsheet referred to during the trial revealed many of the withdrawals Jacobs made after she deposited the cheques were at ATMs near casinos in both the Lower Mainland and Squamish.
In handing down her sentence, the judge rejected Jacobs’s gambling as either a prime cause of or a mitigating factor in responsibility for her crimes.
Jacobs also spent money she stole on other things, including household bills, entertainment and sessions at a local spa, the judge noted.
To a large extent Jacobs committed the fraud to allow her “to do things she enjoyed, including likely gambling and attending a spa,” Smith said.
Smith noted that Jacobs grew up on the Cheakamus reserve in Squamish and was raised by both her mother and maternal grandparents, who were both residential school survivors. Despite that, Jacobs obtained post-secondary education, had a good job and rose to a position of prominence within the Nation, the judge said.
“Part of the tragedy of this” is that Jacobs was for a time a role model for others, Smith added.
Smith said she hoped that upon Jacobs’s release from jail, the Squamish Nation would accept her back into the community, which she strongly identifies with.
Dressed in black, Jacobs sat quietly in the courtroom as the judge read her reasons for sentence.
Several members of Squamish Nation were in court Friday to hear the judge’s decision.
“Don’t forget all the good things that you did. Don’t ever forget that,” one of Jacobs’ supporters called out as she was led away by sheriffs.