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Crown seeks four-year prison sentence for Paige Imola

By Susan Gamble, Brantford Expositor

The sentencing hearing began Friday, Aug. 4 in Brantford for Paige Imola, who was found guilty earlier this year of defrauding her former employer of more than $500,000. (Brian Thompson - The Expositor)

The sentencing hearing began Friday, Aug. 4 in Brantford for Paige Imola, who was found guilty earlier this year of defrauding her former employer of more than $500,000. (Brian Thompson - The Expositor)

BRANTFORD - 

Much like the trial itself, the sentencing of Christina Paige Imola will take a lot longer than expected after the first day ended with the prosecution and defence far apart on what should happen to the former office manager at Ball Media.

Assistant Crown attorney Larry Brock asked the judge to impose a penitentiary term of four years on Imola while a newly hired defence lawyer, Scott Bergman, said he would be asking for a conditional sentence.

“This was an extremely serious offence,” argued Brock, “not only in the way it was conducted but in the long-lasting impact and toll it took on the victims.”

Imola, 51, was found guilty in May of fraud over $5,000 and possession of property obtained by crime in connection with funds taken from digital media firm Ball Media Corp. She wrote more than $350,000 in fraudulent cheques to herself and to her son who didn’t work at the company. Imola freely used company credit cards for thousands of dollars in personal purchases that ranged from theatre tickets to vacations.

It took five-and-a-half years from the time she was charged until the verdict. Her husband, Luigi Imola, 52, faced the same charges as his wife but was acquitted.

Insisting they had spent and borrowed all they could on legal fees, the couple, was self-represented during the long trial that heard more than 30 days of testimony and evidence.

After Justice Richard Lococo found Imola guilty during a two-hour verdict, she gave The Expositor a two-page statement proclaiming her innocence. She said she had made about 150 court appearances regarding the case and accused the Crown of trying to bleed her dry and restrict her right to a lawyer.

“It is a sad day for justice when an innocent mother of three is failed by the system,” she wrote in her news release.

Brock asked that a copy of Imola’s statement be made evidence in the hearing.

“It’s important the court receive this,” Brock said. “It goes to the issue of a lack of remorse. She blamed the judicial system and took swipes at John Ball, calling him a sociopath, took personal swipes at the Crown attorney, me in particular for persecuting her and publicly humiliating her and ultimately blaming the press for reporting on evidence at trial.

“That’s a clear demonstration of Paige Imola’s lack of remorse.”

Although signs of remorse can help lessen a sentence, a lack of remorse can’t be considered an aggravating factor in sentencing.

Lococo agreed to receive Imola’s statement, saying it could be useful.

The sentencing hearing featured victim impact statements from six people but began with arguments between the lawyers about whether the victims had overstepped their bounds by urging sharp punishment for Imola, mentioning aspects of her character and offering diagnoses of the crime.

Bergman, who specializes in criminal matters like “large-scale fraud” according to his firm’s website, asked that the statements be edited.

In response, Brock noted he could make the same argument about the character references the court received on behalf of Imola.

“The majority of them are making recommendations about sentencing. One said the five-and-a-half years it’s taken to get here today should be taken as time served. They all professed the innocence of Paige Imola and commented (negatively) on the character of John Ball.”

Lococo said he wouldn’t edit the victim’s statements but would not be influenced by any recommendations about sentencing.

John Ball addressed the “devastating” effect Imola’s crime has had on his business, family, health and emotional well-being.

“She doesn’t show a shred of remorse or regret for her actions, nor does he offer an explanation or any reasoning for them. She doesn’t care in the least that people lost their jobs because of her.”

Ball talked about how the Imolas were dear friends of his family and how, after the fraud was revealed, the Imolas would drive past the Ball home “and laugh and taunt us about stealing from us.”

He recounted how his business suffered due to the theft, what it did to the firm’s reputation and how he suffered extreme guilt over allowing Imola to damage his company.

“Anyone who says fraud isn’t a violent crime is incorrect,” said Ball.

“I’ve had my world and my family’s world destroyed because of Paige Imola. If you want a certain lifestyle, work for it. Don’t try to steal someone else’s lifestyle.”

Other victims shared a common theme of feeling embarrassed and ashamed at not seeing Imola’s fraudulent ways and guilty for not stopping her.

“I keep thinking ‘I can’t be made the fool again,’” said the firm’s former bookkeeper Laurette Caron.

“It’s humiliating to have been someone’s pawn. I keep thinking I should have seen it, I should have questioned her, I should have talked to John more and I should have trusted my gut.”

Darcy Scott, a shareholder at Ball Media and the vice-president of the firm, said the incredible stress of the crime and ensuing court case caused him and his wife to divorce. He also had to leave the firm to start a new life elsewhere.

“This is all a result of a crime committed by an incredibly devious, cold, calculated, heartless and selfish person, Paige Imola.

“She has shown zero remorse and made a mockery of the justice system ... Paige Imola is a heartless criminal that has no care or concern for those around.”

Prosecutor Brock asked the court to sentence Imola to four years in penitentiary plus full restitution of $530,788 to punish her for what he called “pure greed”.

“Mrs. Imola wanted a lifestyle she couldn’t afford and had no difficulty in using the funds (she took) to pay off expensive renovations, furnish a Florida condo, buy lingerie, go on multiple vacations to Florida and a family holiday to celebrate her 44th birthday in New York where she never pulled out a personal credit card to pay for anything.”

Brock said the crime deserves a higher level of punishment due to Imola’s position of trust, the significant amount of money she took, the severe impact it had on the victims, the complex ways the money was taken and her repeated lies to Ball Media employees.

“Her criminal actions were willful, deliberate and required careful planning. The only explanation the Crown can offer is pure greed.”

Along with restitution of $530,788 to Ball Media, Brock asked the court to consider a fine in lieu of restitution, so that if Imola fails to pay back the funds there is a punishment.

Brock said there have already been “dozens of court orders” of seizure in the civil trial against the Imolas that involved their home, other real estate and the surrender of assets – including a diamond tennis bracelet purchased for more than $8,000 on a Ball Media credit card.

“We don’t want people like Mrs. Imola to write the script on how to defraud your employer, get away with it and profit.”

The sentencing hearing will continue on a date yet to be set in September.

Meanwhile, Imola’s new lawyer indicated he had already set up a bail hearing on Friday afternoon in Toronto in order to ask for bail for his client, pending an appeal of the verdict he expected would be handed down Friday. That hearing was cancelled as the case continues.

SGamble@postmedia.com

@EXPSGamble