Insurance broker faces federal time

A local business woman who pleaded guilty to theft and fraud could serve time in a federal penitentiary.

A local business woman who pleaded guilty to theft and fraud could serve time in a federal penitentiary.

Lawyers have provided very different reasons why Joanne Walker bilked local customers of about $120,000.

The former insurance broker ran her scheme from late summer 2004 to July 2005, when the government shut her down.

Subsequently, the RCMP charged her with 28 counts of theft and fraud, as well as related crimes.

After pleading guilty to many of the counts, Walker did not speak during her court appearance this week.

But Crown prosecutor David McWhinnie and defence lawyer Robert Dick presented the territorial court with very different motives for Walker’s crimes.

The 48-year-old woman was “motivated primarily by greed,” according to McWhinnie.

However, Dick said she committed her crimes for the sake of her now ex-husband and two children.

“Her motivation in this was to maintain the family,” said Dick.

Until this week, few details were released about Walker’s fraudulent business.

Her “basic scheme” was to sell insurance from a variety of well-known companies, without their permission and without a contract, McWhinnie told presiding judge John Faulkner.

“She basically stole money in some cases,” said McWhinnie.

Walker doctored letters and other insurance papers so they appeared to be printed on company letterhead.

“It would pass a cursory inspection,” said McWhinnie.

But small slip-ups on the false policies landed Walker in court.

Her scheme began to unravel when a client went to another company looking for a comparison quote.

That legitimate broker noticed irregularities in Walker’s paperwork; some pages bore the signature of a company president who was already retired.

The company was contacted and it said Walker had no right to sell its insurance.

Over the course of the summer, the Yukon insurance superintendent revoked her licence and the RCMP laid criminal charges.

In total Walker issued between 145 and 150 false home, auto and business policies totaling around $120,000.

Only about 18 people were legitimately insured by her.

Though she co-operated with police and pleaded guilty early in the process, Walker has a “high moral fault” in this crime, said McWhinnie.

“The trust element is very high with these sorts of things,” he said.

“The risk to the public is very high.”

What if a young man, to whom she had issued car insurance, were in an accident and suffered permanent injuries? he asked.

Many Yukoners were driving in uninsured vehicles and living and working in uninsured buildings, without knowing it, he said.

McWhinnie said Walker told police, “Every time she heard a siren, she had a sinking feeling.”

Walker knew what she had done was wrong, he added.

And while no one was hurt or injured, Walker’s crimes could still have her spending up to three years in a federal penitentiary.

“Reduced to its simplest, Ms. Walker appears right on the cusp of going to a penitentiary,” said McWhinnie.

Walker began selling fake policies to support her family, said Dick.

She originally moved to the territory in 2003 to work for Arctic Insurance Brokers Ltd., but she and her family soon faced some difficult times.

They couldn’t find a place to live right away and her then-husband had trouble holding down a job.

Unable to handle the stress and long work-hours of her job, Walker quit.

“The one thing she had going for her was her years of experience in the insurance business,” said Dick.

So, she opened up shop “fully anticipating” that contracts from big insurance companies would come through.

They didn’t.

Clients came through the door, but contracts didn’t.

“Paying off the mortgage, looking after the kids — that’s what this was about,” Dick told the court.

And so the fraud began, with falsified documents from companies like SunAlliance Insurance Co., ING Canada, The Economical Insurance Group and Aviva Canada Inc., among others.

“Every turn she made, she made the wrong one,” added Dick.

“It always was her intention to be a business, a legitimate, law-abiding business.”

Walker may be handed a number of different sentences.

If Faulkner rules that the crime deserves more than two years, Walker would spend her sentence inside a federal prison.

If she is handed two years, or less, she may be sent to Whitehorse Correctional Centre or given a conditional sentence, which is a jail term served in the community.

To date, she has paid back between $30,000 and $35,000 of the $120,000 she owes.

The imminent sale of her portion of her house to her ex-husband would take another $40,000 to $50,000 off her debt load.

The next hearing has been scheduled for June 5.

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