Lindberg given sentence after pleading guilty to theft at FFHS

Peggy Revell

Former FFHS secretary Fawn Lindberg was handed an 18-month conditional sentence here last Thursday for stealing more than $300,000 from the high school to feed a gambling addiction.
“My assessment of [Lindberg] is that she is a good woman who lost her way for a time and due to an illness that which engendered her behaviour,” Justice Erwin Stach stated while sentencing Lindberg at the Fort Frances Courthouse after she had pleaded guilty to the charge of theft over $5,000.
“I would like to apologize to the staff of the RRDSB, to former colleagues of Fort Frances High School, as well as the students and parents,” said Lindberg, reading her statement to the court in tears and a shaky voice as an apology to the community.
Lindberg said it was never her intention to hurt or embarrass anyone with what she did.
“My life was consumed by my chronic gambling,” she remarked, adding that she will forever be sorry for her actions.
Through counselling and the support of friends and family, Lindberg said she no longer is gambling. She also has worked to put together a local chapter of Gamblers Anonymous to help out others who are dealing with problem gambling.
It is the only group of its kind for people in this area seeking help with a gambling problem.
“I find comfort and peace in helping others [fight] their addiction,” said Lindberg, once again reiterating her sorrow for her actions.
From June, 2005 to October, 2007, Lindberg stole a total of $312,426.45 through 146 cheques written to herself or to “cash” from the school’s accounts.
As head secretary, Lindberg was not entitled to issue cheques. But a practice had developed wherein the principal and vice-principal at the time, who did have the authority to issue cheques, would authorize them in advance.
There was no evidence to suggest that Lindberg either forged or signed the cheques herself.
She admitted to the theft after board administration asked the principal to investigate a deficit.
Under the conditional sentence outlined by Justice Stach, Lindberg essentially will be under house arrest for the first nine months—only allowed to leave under certain
circumstances (i.e., medical).
The final nine months will
see an imposed curfew, followed by a two-year probationary period.
Lindberg also will have to complete 100 hours of community service in those 18 months—beyond the time she currently contributes to the Gamblers Anonymous group which now sees, on average, seven-eight people attend on a weekly basis.
As part of her sentence, Lindberg also is to “abstain absolutely in all gaming/gambling activity.”
Justice Stach said also contributing to his sentencing decision were the efforts by Lindberg to attempt restitution for the funds she stole.
Under a plan outlined by Lindberg’s legal representation, her Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System (OMERS) pension has been relocated to a local bank.
And as is possible under financial law, it will be withdrawn from on a yearly basis until exhausted to pay back the Rainy River District School Board/Ontario School Boards’ Insurance Exchange.
Justice Stach conceded that due to the financial limits of the pension plan (it only holds just over $120,000 in total), it is not a “perfect” restitution but “it is an earnest scheme.”
Crown prosecutor Robert “Buster” Young had requested a sentence of two-three years in jail for Lindberg.
Young said he believes that addiction—and the neurological factor—play a role in what happened.
“[But] I don’t think it exculpates nor does it diminish moral culpability,” he argued, noting that a person with this illness does know what they’re doing is wrong.
“Denunciation” is “very much in play in this case,” Young said about the legal reasoning behind asking for this sentence, and citing other cases where jail terms have been handed out.
Young also noted that despite the move for restitution, “we’re never going to see anything reaching the full amount” of what originally was stolen.
“These were public funds earmarked for education,” he stressed. “The community, in a very real and direct sense, was affected.
“The focus doesn’t become the perpetrator—they’re not the victim,” Young added. “The victim in this situation is the community, in a very real way.”
In his ruling, Justice Stach said he wanted to avoid colouring Lindberg as a victim—but a conditional sentence was the right “fit” for her as an offender.
“I think it’s fair to say that Fawn Lindberg hadn’t planned in advance the series of criminal acts that unfolded under the course of the [two years],” Justice Stach said in his ruling.
“Nor was her involvement in it part of a sophisticated scheme that she dreamed up in order to steal money.”
Justice Stach also noted there was “not a hint” that the theft was motivated by greed.
A report by a forensic accountant showed that Lindberg had an expenditure of $340,000 on online gambling “alone,” Justice Stach said.
“There can be no doubt that Fawn Lindberg was afflicted by a serious addiction to gambling,” remarked Justice Stach, noting he ”attach[es] weight” to the expert opinions brought forward concerning the “incidences and the breadth and the scope” of the pathological gambling disorder Lindberg was diagnosed with.
Since the discovery of the missing funds, Lindberg has undergone both in-patient and out-patient treatment for the addiction.
This was done of Lindberg’s own accord, noted her defence counsel led by Hassan Fancy, as well as her working to establish the local Gamblers Anonymous support group.
Lindberg also met with Dr. Robert Williams, a researcher with the University of Lethbridge in Alberta who has an extensive background in studying problem gambling.
The scale that measures problem gambling ranges from “mild” to “pathological gambling,” Fancy explained, noting that pathological gambling is a “distinct illness in psychiatry” recognized and outlined under the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM 4).
A diagnosis of the illness requires five of nine criteria to be met.
In Lindberg’s case, all of these criteria were met, said Fancy. He added she also exceeded the required criteria when evaluated under the South Oaks Gambling Screen (SOGS).
“This is a very severe illness in Ms. Lindberg’s case,” he stressed, noting that the evidence—such as a lack of sophistication, a lack of malice, the pattern of how the cheques were made out, and all of the money being put towards feeding the addiction—reflect Lindberg’s diagnosis with pathological gambling.
What is known about the illness is that there is a neurological connection with pathways in the brain and excess dopemine, which creates an “abnormal state.”
“Loss of control” is the “essential feature” of pathological gambling, Fancy explained, at one point noting there is a false stereotype that this illness is one that depends on willpower.
“As much as people like to think it effects a certain sector, it can strike everybody and anybody,” he added.
“It’s a terrible illness.”
When it comes to theft (which only occurs in a small number of pathological gambling cases), the person knows it is wrong but they aren’t able to stop it, he explained, and often “irrationally” believing they can “win back the money” to make things right.
Fancy also outlined various events in Lindberg’s life, which Dr. Williams noted put her at risk for addiction.
Amongst many things, this included parental dysfunction, a family history of addictions, sexual assault as a youth, struggles with depression, an abusive marriage, and bankruptcy following a divorce.
Yet despite all these things, Lindberg had no prior criminal record, Fancy stressed, with Dr. Williams pinpointing the “primary trigger” behind her turning to gambling being when she learned her son had a drug addiction.
“This was not a crime of choice but illness,” he reiterated, referring to the “exceptional circumstances” that should allow for a conditional sentence.
Fancy also noted that having undergone treatment, Lindberg is not a threat to society.
That Lindberg’s conduct was driven by a mental disorder does not mean her conduct is not “criminally blameworthy,” Justice Stach noted.
“All here have agreed that it is,” he said.
In his sentencing, Justice Stach noted Lindberg seeking treatment and establishing the Gamblers Anonymous group here were a factor in his decision.
“Sending Fawn Lindberg to jail has the potential to disrupt, if not kibosh entirely, the Gamblers Anonymous sessions, which I dare say this community finds some benefit from,” he remarked.
Also considered in the sentencing was Lindberg’s background, the presence of a supportive spouse (who has a work-related disability and requires her assistance), as well as the help her son needs as he is “coming to grips with his own addictions” and requires the support of his mother.
“I am satisfied that Ms. Lindberg, that the remorse that you expressed, is sincere [and] not something newly found,” Justice Stach said.
“It has been in evidence and revelation since the beginning.
“I believe that you have much to offer the community, and hope that the healing process between you and the community becomes established and works to everyone’s advantage,” he added.