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Dennis Sentenced to 18 Months House Arrest and Restitution

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Former Chamber GM Martha Dennis spent $160,000 of the Chamber's money on personal purchases at places like the L.C.B.O, Disney on Ice, Canadian Tire, a jewellery store, Crabby Joe's and cash advances.

WOODSTOCK - The allegations of defrauding the Woodstock Chamber of Commerce by the organization's former General Manager / Executive Director Martha Dennis came to a close today in a Woodstock courtroom.

The court first heard from Crown Attorney Paul Leger, who outlined the mishandling of nearly $193,000 by Dennis who had access to the Chambers financial accounts and had authority to use a Royal Bank of Canada Visa credit card in the Chamber's name.  Throughout the course of a police investigation, it was determined the card had been used for purchases at the L.C.B.O, Disney on Ice, Canadian Tire, a jewellery store, Crabby Joe's as well as cash advances.  Leger explained that the monthly Visa bill was then paid off with funds from the Woodstock Chamber of Commerce bank account.  

The initial amount of $193,000 was disputed by Dennis' Lawyer Giacomo Nero, arguing some of the purchases were for Chamber purposes.  The Crown accepted a total of $160,000 was still in question.  In her defence, Nero also explained that Dennis at times was overwhelmed by the demands of her position with the Chamber and that at times she would be dealing with the stress of working with many "A" type personalities while organizing up to 25 large events per year for the organization.  He added that it was not an excuse for her behaviour however.

In light of the allegations made, Nero highlighted that Dennis was born and raised in Oxford County and until this point had no prior convictions and was otherwise a contributing member of society as the mother of an adult son and grandmother.  He went on to point out that she was a College graduate with additional University level education and was not involved in sophisticated fraudulent activity, and not likely to offend again.  He also pointed out that Dennis had brought forward $50,000 in trust to offer for restitution.  Money that she had to borrow from an unnamed friend and former Chamber member as well as liquidating any of her personal assets including her retirement savings.  

The time then came for Dennis to stand and listen for several minutes for the clerk to read aloud, all 32 counts of theft under $5,000 from February 8th, 2011 to Sept 30th, 2016.  When asked for her plea, Dennis replied clearly, "guilty". 

In a joint submission that all sides agreed to, including the Chamber of Commerce.  The Crown suggested an 18 month conditional sentence, followed by 12 months probation, and accepting the $50,000 restitution presented, leaving a remaining $110,000 compensation amount. Leger added that Dennis could have brought forward a Stay Application, which Leger said could quite possibly be successful considering the mishandling of the allegations in the early stages of the investigation between August 2016-February 2018.  It was during this time of the police investigation the Woodstock Chamber of Commerce informed the Woodstock Police Service they were satisfied to deal with the matter in civil court, however the Chamber board switched gears and decided to pursue criminal charges long after the fact.  The court could see this as an abuse of power which would mean no charges or restitution would be warranted if successful in a trial.
Due to the magnitude of the breach of trust as well as the amount of money that was allegedly taken, the Ontario Court of Justice, Judge S.E.J. Paull moved court to a twenty minute recess so that he could review the details before presenting an appropriate sentence.  

Closer to an hour later, Judge Paull addressed the courtroom by saying this was a rare and complicated case.  It was not an easy one to determine sentencing for and a number of things were considered, including rehabilitation, the amount of monetary loss to the Woodstock Chamber of Commerce a not for profit organization.  He went on to say that he recognized the full restitution is highly unlikely due to the fact that Dennis' financial's have taken a significant turn due to her reputation now and her inability to find suitable employment not amounting to more than $18,000 annually.  The motivation for her actions was also addressed by the judge, to which he deemed to be that of "greed", considering the fact that Dennis was not forthcoming with her actions and was caught stealing the money which ultimately lead to the termination of her employment.  He went on to say he did recognize the amount of personal loss she has encountered, including a failed marriage in 2017, loss of her home, bankruptcy in 2016 and the loss of respect from the community, he did show some mercy in the sentencing.

When asked if she would like to address the court, an emotional Dennis replied.

"I would like to apologize to the Chamber, the community, family and friends for my actions.  I accept full responsibility for my actions.  I have had many losses and consequences during this past three years and will fulfill the terms as outlined.  Once again, I apologize". 

The total sentence for Martha Dennis is 18 months, the first six of which are house arrest with the ability to go to and from work, she will have 3 hours to leave to purchase groceries etc. The second 6 months includes a curfew from 7p.m. until 7a.m.  The following 6 months all conditions are to be met but no curfew or house arrest, she will be allowed to leave for medical emergencies.  In addition, Dennis must follow any counselling or rehabilitation imposed, and show proof of attendance.  Following the 18 month, she will have an additional 12 months parole.  Dennis is also restricted from possessing any bank card, or credit card not in her own name and she will have 72 hours to surrender the $50,000 currently in trust directly to the Woodstock Chamber of Commerce, and  a seperate order was made for restitution of the remaining $110,000 she took, there was no timeline for when the remaining balance was to be paid by. 

When asked how she felt about the outcome, Dennis says she is remorseful for her actions.

"I regret my actions.  There were contributing factors over the years however I don't feel there is anything to be gained by airing them publicly, and I accept complete responsibility for it."

For the past 3 years, Dennis has worked as a nanny and part-time in retail. 

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