By Delon Shurtz - Lethbridge Herald on September 28, 2022.
A Lethbridge accountant who defrauded the provincialÂ government of nearly $4,000 in 2018, has been ordered to take counselling for financial management as part of her sentence.
ThereseaÂ Marlain Balazs, who pleaded guilty earlier this year to one count of fraud under $5,000, was given a six-month conditional sentence Monday in Lethbridge provincial court, the first three months of which she will be under house arrest, followed by three months of curfew between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m. every day. She will also be on probation for six months following her sentence, during which she must take counselling as directed by her probation supervisor and for life skills and financial management.
Court was told that between February and May of 2018 Balazs falsified doctors notes to receive income support. She under-reported her income, as well as failedÂ to report other sources of financial support, yet received $3,961 in government funding to which she was notÂ entitled.
Crown Prosecutor James Rouleau pointed out Balazs, 57, has only one previous criminal conviction, but it was for theft over $5,000 in 2015, for which she received a nine-month conditional sentence and was ordered to make restitution of about $28,000.
Rouleau added had Balazs not provided her lawyer with restitution of $3,961 in this case, he would have recommended a different sentence.
“Had it not been for restitution being paid in advance, the Crown would likely be seeking a period of custody behind bars,” Rouleau said.
Lethbridge lawyer Cara Lebenzon told court her client has suffered significant mental health issues, as well as intergenerational trauma in relation to her parents, for which she has previously been institutionalized.
“She has expressed to me that going through severe financial strain and problems with her relationship culminated in poor decision-making, which resulted in these charges, which bring her before the court today, sir; not that it’s an excuse, but that is the background,” Lebenzon said.
Lebenzon said Balazs is remorseful and expressed early on a desire to plead guilty and pay restitution, all of which mitigate the gravity of the offence.
“She feels very embarrassed and bad about what happened.”
Judge Gregory Maxwell doubted the sincerity of Balazs’ remorse, however, and said she only showed remorse after her planned and deliberate crime came to light and she was caught.
“This is actually fabricating medical evidence so that you can get what you need to get, and you know better,” Maxwell said.
He also noted that a pre-sentence report prepared to assist in sentencing indicates Balazs is concerned that others will learn about her offence and she will lose her accounting job.
“That really worries me, to be honest with you, because it would seem to me that somebody who is entrusting you with responsibility for financial matters deserves to know that not only are you charged with this fraud, but that you have a previous criminal record. So I’m not certain I accept that there’s this overwhelming remorse. I think there’s remorse that you got caught.”
He said his responsibility as judge is to determine whether the conditional sentence order recommended by the Crown and defence fits within an appropriate range.
“The fact of the matter is, sometimes it’s really easy when I sit here, to say what’s proposed sits squarely within the range. This barely fits in the range.”
Maxwell said that before he heard the joint recommendation by the Crown and defence for a six-month conditional sentence order, he “fully expected” Balazs would go to jail.
“You should thank your lucky stars that there’s a joint submission before the court, because left to my own devices, I’d send you to jail.”
As part of her probation, Balazs must also take psychiatric and psychological counselling, reside at an approved residence, not possess or consume alcohol and drugs and not possess any identification documents other than her own.
Follow @DShurtzHerald on Twitter