Judge orders repayment of huge theft
Bookkeeper gets conditional sentence for $94,000 embezzlement

by Ian Elliot
Northern News Services

NNSL (Nov 26/97) - A Yellowknife bookkeeper who pilfered more than $94,000 from his employers to feed a gambling addiction has been sentenced to 18 months for the crime.

But Jose Tolentino, 49, will not be sent to prison to serve his sentence, Judge Robert Halifax ruled in territorial court Friday.

After a thorough examination of the factors involved, the judge ruled he will serve his time in the community with a long list of conditions attached to his freedom in what is known as a conditional sentence.

"You've been given a bit of a break today," he told the bookkeeper, who apologized to his former employers and his family, who sat weeping on the benches behind him, prior to sentencing.

Tolentino pleaded guilty to stealing more than $90,000 from four businesses for which he worked -- TC Enterprises, the Executive Hotel, Avoca Ltd. and Final Touch -- by cashing cheques which he wrote to himself.

Halifax noted that the amount stolen and similar breaches of trust have brought other people in the same position three or four years in prison. However, the fact that Tolentino has already paid back about $10,000 of the money he stole, is in therapy for his gambling and alcohol addictions and does not present a threat to the community mitigated the sentence.

He downplayed defence arguments that Tolentino had never been in trouble before, noting that people of bad character rarely get into a position of trust which they can then exploit for personal gain.

He ordered Tolentino to attend a gambling counselling group at least twice a week, an alcohol counselling group at least three times a week and be home from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. every night except if he's working. In addition, Halifax issued a restitution order for $85,000 Tolentino still owes.

"I would say you have an obligation to pay them, even if it takes you the next 10 years," he told Tolentino.

The former bookkeeper and karate teacher, whom the court heard is now performing low-paid, menial work, will return to court in six months for a progress report.