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ST. JOHN’S, NL — A woman who stole thousands of dollars from an employer before doing the same at her new job was “caught in a whirlpool” of her son’s drug addiction, the court heard Tuesday, February 28.
Tania Breen was the vice president of finance for a local telecommunications company in 2015 and 2016 when she took out more than $51,000 in cash advances from a company credit card, used the card for nearly $11,000 on personal purchases, and gave the company about $16,000 charged for renovation work. She gave her then-spouse, who also worked for the company, a nearly $46,000 raise and generated a $7,800 salary for her son, who had worked there for a day.
When Breen’s employer discovered the theft, Breen and her ex-husband — who was innocent, she wrote to her boss in an email — were fired.
Breen had been working as an auditor for an engineering firm for about a year in 2019 when her employer received a letter from the sheriff’s office ordering her wages to be withheld in connection with the stolen money.
“You asked Ms Breen about it and she made no statement,” prosecutor Kellie Cullihall told the court. “As a result, she was terminated the same day and the company subsequently reviewed its financial records.”
This check revealed that Breen had written himself checks for unauthorized amounts totaling $15,633.33.
Breen pleaded guilty to two counts of $5,000 fraud and took the stand on Tuesday in St. John’s Provincial Court. She said she gave most of the stolen money in cash to her son, who was dealing with a drug addiction.
“Every day there was large amounts of money that he needed or someone would burn down his house or find him dead. It was consistent no matter what I did,” she said. “I said no no no and while I slept I got hundreds of messages on my phone saying he needed money. It just got out of control,” she said. “One thousand dollars a day, easy. Sometimes I didn’t have it and that’s why I resorted to it.”
Breen broke down when she told the court she went to her son one day in October 2019 and found him dead at his home from an accidental drug overdose.
“Do you think (if not) what your son went through would you ever have committed those offenses?” Breen’s attorney, Jon Noonan, asked her.
“Never,” Breen replied.
Under cross-examination, Cullihall inquired about the personal charges on the company credit card and the home renovations that had been billed. Breen said the latter should build a fence on her son’s property for his dog.
Breen told the court that she has not yet returned the money because until recently she “had had a hard time keeping a job” and employers fired her when they learned of her charges. One of her current employers also discovered her, she said, but did not fire her. Breen acknowledged that she had not shared the information with any employer herself.
“By not telling them, do you realize that’s the same kind of dishonest behavior?” Judge James Walsh asked Breen. “By not disclosing it to an employer, you really are lying to them and you got fired for your lies because you didn’t tell them the truth.”
Noonan disagreed with the judge’s comments, saying Breen was under no obligation to disclose the matter to new employers.
“Why would anyone use that in an interview? If an employer asks you and you are dishonest, you will suffer the consequences. Maybe they didn’t ask. Maybe they believe in second chances, we don’t know,” Noonan said. “We have no evidence of that.”
“The proof is that she lost her job when they discovered the crimes had taken place,” Walsh replied.
Noonan pointed to Breen’s lack of a criminal record and her assessment by a probation officer that she was at low risk of recidivism.
“She was caught (with her son) in a whirlpool and would have done anything to support him and he didn’t survive. That’s the saddest part,” Noonan said. “She never asked for it. She did everything she could for her son, including criminal acts. Now he’s gone and she’s here to pay for it.”
Noonan pleaded for house arrest for Breen, while Cullihall pleaded for 12 to 14 months in prison.