Former Abbotsford union boss sentenced for fraud

Ronald Christopher Hunter was president of CUPE local 774 when he defrauded the union of thousands of dollars.

A former president of the Abbotsford CUPE (Canadian Union of Public Employees) local received an 18-month conditional sentence on Monday for defrauding the union of more than $21,000.

Ronald Christopher Hunter, 42, previously pleaded guilty to fraud over $5,000 for incidents that occurred from 2008 to 2010.

Charges of using a forged document and forgery were stayed.

Hunter was acclaimed as president of CUPE local 774 in April 2008 while working as an equipment operator and water technician.

Crown counsel Louisa Winn told the court that, over an 18-month period starting in July 2008, there were 13 incidents in which Hunter was paid for expenses he claimed using fake invoices.

The treasurer at the time was inexperienced, and Hunter took advantage of that, Winn said.

“Because he was the president, she relied on his authority.”

In one instance, Hunter submitted an invoice for just over $2,000 to cover airfare for two to attend a national CUPE conference in Newfoundland.

In another, he submitted an invoice for $750 to cover the costs of a course on communications skills.

Hunter’s deceit was discovered after he wrote and cleared a $6,100 cheque for a CUPE fishing tournament, which he told the treasurer would be reimbursed to the local by the provincial CUPE branch.

When she checked the details with the national office, she discovered that no such arrangement had been made.

An internal investigation was conducted, and checks with vendors listed on other invoices indicated that Hunter had been falsifying documents.

The matter was reported to the Abbotsford Police Department, and Hunter was charged in November 2010.

Defence lawyer Lorne Wise said Hunter perpetrated the fraud in order to provide counselling for his wife, who was experiencing mental health issues, and for CUPE members who were not being covered through their benefits.

Wise said Hunter was also suffering from anxiety and depression at the time, and was overwhelmed by his role as union president.

In sentencing Hunter, Judge Gregory Rideout said Hunter’s crimes were a betrayal of the “blue collar” and “hard-working” members of the union.

The crimes not only “financially devastated” the local, but damaged its credibility and members’ morale, he said.

Hunter addressed the court, saying he was sorry for his actions, particularly in deceiving the treasurer at the time.

“(There is) no excuse for the bad decisions I’ve made, the betrayal,” he said.

A conditional sentence means Hunter will serve his time in the community and will be allowed to leave his home only to attend work. His sentence will be followed by one year of probation.

Hunter has also been ordered to repay the $21,146 that he fraudulently obtained. Most of this will go to the insurance company that covered the majority of the local’s losses, while the rest will go directly to the union.

Rideout noted the irony in Hunter now being employed at another union job.

Kalinda Naismith, current treasurer of CUPE local 774, said she believes the membership will be satisfied with the sentence handed down.

“Ron Hunter held a position of trust, and he betrayed our members by abusing his authority and breaching that trust,” she said.

Naismith refuted Hunter’s defence that he used the fraudulently obtained funds to help members pay for counselling expenses.

” … our employer offers a great Employee and Family Assistance Program. In my 17 years, I’ve never heard of anyone being denied free counselling through the program.”