Nearly eight years after police started investigating a Houston accountant for allegedly defrauding more than $800,000 from a Moricetown logging company, the resulting trial is finally nearing a close.
The accountant, Susan Gail Leuenberger, faces criminal charges on three counts: theft over $5,000, fraud over $5,000, and making a false entry in an accounting journal.
The offences allegedly occurred between 1999 and 2004, when Leuenberger’s Pleasant Valley Accounting was handling accounts for Kyah Industries Ltd., a logging company run by the Moricetown band.
“How this case came before us is very unusual,” said Ian Lawson, the lawyer defending Leuenberger in a Smithers courtroom last Tuesday.
What is unusual about the case, Lawson said, is that from 2006 to 2008, Leuenberger defender herself and gave testimony in a civil trial launched by Kyah Industries without knowing that she was also under a police investigation and would likely face criminal charges.
“Had I known that I would be facing a criminal charge as well as a civil lawsuit, I would have handled the civil trial differently,” Leuenberger said in a sworn affidavit, adding she would have kept a lawyer for advice if she had known she faced the possibility of jail.
“Now having received that advice from my current counsel, I realize I likely incriminated myself in the civil trial,” she said.
That issue was front and centre Tuesday, when Honourable Justice John Milne had to decide whether the Crown counsel could cross-examine Leuenberger on testimony she gave in the civil trial.
Citing a recent Supreme Court of Canada case on the same issue, Justice Milne ruled that because Leuenberger gave her testimony voluntarily, she could be questioned about it for the limited purpose of raising any contradictions.
Leuenberger was then questioned by Stephen Cooke, a Crown counsel who has prosecuted fraud cases across B.C.
At one point, when Cooke asked Leuenberger about her testimony from the civil trial, she said, “It’s been so many years since I would’ve said that, I can’t say what context that would refer to.”
The four years it took Leuenberger’s criminal case to come to trial continues to be a major issue for her defence.
Last March, Leuenberger argued charges against her should be stayed because the delay infringed her Charter rights to a fair trial.
Although RCMP Cpl. Darren Dodge started investigating Leuenberger in December 2004, he didn’t press charges until March 2008, more than one year after he interviewed Leuenberger and nearly 2.5 years after finishing a significant part of his investigation.
Hon. Justice MacCarthy called the delay “troubling,” and said it did result in “a very odd situation” where Leuenberger’s civil trial went ahead during a criminal investigation based on the same facts.
Still, Justice MacCarthy concluded a trial judge could still hear the case without prejudice.
He also noted neither the Crown nor the police had any ulterior motive in delaying the charges for so long.
“It was mostly the result of an overworked and inexperienced junior investigator with a huge number of responsibilities,” the judge said.
Justice MacCarthy also said given Leuenberger had a lawyer for the two years leading up to her 2006-2008 civil trial and had seen a front-page Interior News story suggesting RCMP were investigating her, it is somewhat hard to imagine she wasn’t concerned about defending herself against criminal charges.
A date has yet to be set for closing arguments by defence counsel.