Oliver woman who stole more than $10k from fund for local elementary kids gets no jail time

September 17, 2021


UPDATE: 2 p.m.

Belinda Yorke will not spend any time behind bars for stealing over $10,000 from the Oliver Elementary School PAC between 2016 and 2018.

Yorke pleaded guilty to the theft in 2020, and heard her sentence in Penticton court Friday.

She will serve a two-year conditional sentence, allowing for necessary trips into the community, and a 12-month probationary period after that.

Justice Geoffery Gomery also added that Yorke will need to apologize to the PAC either in person or via letter, and repay $10,696.17.

Crown had argued for time in jail, but Gomery declined that submission, while still maintaining the sentence fit the circumstances.

“I want to emphasize the circumstances of an offender are not taken account of to somehow excuse the conduct but to offer some insight, some explanation, how such a thing could have occurred for the person [with] no previous criminal involvements no previous criminal record,” Gomery said.

Gomery noted that Yorke was struggling as a single mother of her elementary school-aged son and has been dealing with child support issues between herself and her husband Adam Yorke, as well as battling physical and mental health ailments.

ORIGINAL: 12:30 p.m.

An Oliver woman who stole over $10,000 meant for kids at the local elementary school will learn whether she is heading to jail Friday afternoon.

Belinda Yorke, born in 1972, is the former treasurer of the Oliver Elementary School Parental Advisory Council who pleaded guilty to theft from the organization following an extensive RCMP investigation.

Yorke was the PAC treasurer from 2016 until early 2018, when she resigned as irregularities in her accounting came to light.

In Penticton Supreme Court Friday, representatives from the Crown and defence presented their submissions for sentencing, and laid out the facts of the case.

Yorke was elected treasurer in June 2016. During her 18-month tenure, she was behind numerous fraudulent transactions in which she wrote checks to herself or her husband, or failed to deposit cash raised at PAC fundraising events like bake sales or cookouts into the PAC account.

She also repeatedly failed to provide detailed accounting to the PAC, and in some cases outright lied to them, the Crown said.

In one instance of note, Yorke had run down the PAC account to just $154 in the summer of 2017, but she told the PAC there were several thousand dollars in the account.

A fellow PAC executive, Marnee Vala, became suspicious in early 2018, when reports from Yorke indicated some annual fundraising events had lost money, although they had historically been lucrative.

Vala obtained accounting records from the PAC’s bank Valley First, and upon discovering discrepancies, alerted RCMP.

The resulting investigation discovered Yorke had deposited $8,188 in PAC funds into her personal chequing account. She had also received $2,508 in cash from various fundraising events, which was never deposited into the PAC account.

The PAC’s provincial gaming grants account had also been meddled with. The account is meant only to receive provincial funding to be directly used for matters benefitting children at the school, and not to be transferred to the PAC’s own account.

Yorke transferred $4,000 from that account to the general account in October 2017, ostensibly to conceal the fact that she had been stealing from the general fund, according to the Crown.

The forensic audit also found “additional irregularities,” and if those were included, it would bring the total amount of money missing to $17,060.93.

Yorke admitted to the thefts to an RCMP investigator.

Crown sought a jail sentence between six and 12 months, and a restitution order in favour of the PAC for $10,696.17.

“This was not a case of a momentary lapse of judgment or a one-off incident. It was a deliberate repeated and calculated effort by Miss Yorke to steal money that was intended to benefit elementary school children,” Crown counsel John Swanson said.

“We rely on the honesty of the people responsible for maintaining the financial accounts of those organizations to act with integrity. In our submission, this type of incident casts a cloud over the good work done by many honest volunteers doing their best to promote the welfare of children … It is important for the court to send a very strong message to Miss Yorke and to the community at large that abusing a position of trust in order to steal from these organizations will be dealt with harshly.”

The defence sought a conditional sentence which would allow Yorke to serve her sentence in the community under house arrest, with allowances to leave the house for essential reasons like medical appointments and to take her young son to school.

Yorke’s lawyer Michael Patterson described Yorke’s struggles as a single mother, who has allegedly not received child support from her husband for three and a half years and is the sole provider for her son, and who deals with a number of mental and physical health issues.

“That dependency needs to be taken into consideration. Any jail time, be it intermittent, any jail time whatsoever would cause a detrimental effect on this child,” Patterson said.

He also explained his client feels great remorse for her actions, asking Yorke to stand and speak for herself.

Yorke said she has been isolated and mostly homebound since the case came to light, facing notoriety in the small community of Oliver.

“I am never going to forgive myself. I broke trust, I broke confidence. The reasons I did it don’t seem to be relevant anymore,” Yorke said.

“I had to keep my son home from school last year because he was also being picked on in the community. And I can never forgive myself for putting my child through that … I will never move on from it. I’m extremely, extremely apologetic and remorseful.”

The matter has been adjourned until 1 p.m. Friday while the justice deliberates. He is expected to sentence Yorke at that time.

Castanet will have the update.