N.S. woman accused of defrauding First Nation ordered to pay $3.2 million

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A former Millbrook employee accused of using the first nation’s money to pay for personal expenses must repay $3.2 million to the band, as well as nearly $850,000 in interest, a Nova Scotia judge has ruled.

In April, Dawn Ellis-Abbott was charged with fraud over $5,000, theft over $5,000 and possession of property obtained by crime over $5,000.

At the time, the RCMP said the 42-year-old had either stolen or misappropriated more than $4 million from the first nation over a four-year period between January 2016 and December 2019.

The criminal case remains before the courts, but in the meantime Millbrook First Nation pursued a civil lawsuit against her.

In the civil case decision, Nova Scotia Supreme Court Justice Pierre Muise said Ellis-Abbott, who was employed with Millbrook as a senior finance clerk, breached her fiduciary duty to the first nation by taking money that wasn’t hers.

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According to the decision, released Thursday, Ellis-Abbott had deposited more than $800,000 worth of cheques from the first nation’s fisheries account, either written to herself or her beauty salon business, DME High Maintenance Hair & Esthetics.

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She also took more than $1.2 million in cash advances from the fisheries Visa, despite the fact that she was “not authorized to do so and there was no legitimate business reason for her to do so.”

“On many occasions, she deposited, into her own account, amounts that were the same as, or similar to, the cash advances she took, the same day as, or shortly after, she took them,” the decision said.

Purchases of jewelry, entertainment, horses

The decision also said she charged at least $1.7 million in purchases to the fisheries Visa from a number of vendors, including Air Canada, Amazon, Apple, Charlottetown Vet Clinic, Charm Diamond Centre, Costco, Fundy Vet, Harris Home Hardware, Nova Animal Hospital, Kelsy’s Plumbing, Maritime Beauty, Maritime Travel, PayPal, Rogers, Standardbred Canada, Truro Raceway, Walmart, Wayfair, Westjet and Zack’s Auto Sales.

Muise said the purchases were “clearly” for personal use and not for Millbrook First Nation.

“There were purchases of beauty products, jewelry and entertainment materials such as shows, movies and music,” his decision said.

“The veterinarian service and product purchases were for animals, including horses, which Millbrook does not have, but Ms. Ellis-Abbott does. The Standardbred Canada and Truro Raceway purchases were for standardbred horses belonging or having belonged to her. Millbrook does not have any.”

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She also used cheques drawn from the fisheries RBC account to pay more than $24,000 on two Nova Scotia Power accounts held by her, one at her salon and one at her parents’ residence.

The decision noted that Ellis-Abbott had claimed some of the funds were used for legitimate Millbrook purposes, but Muise said the pleadings were “unsupported, rendered immaterial or refuted.”

“She presents bald assertions with no supporting evidence,” the judge wrote. “No legitimate Millbrook Fisheries expenses required her to write cheques to herself, deposit them in her personal account, withdraw cash and pay individuals in cash.”

The judge dismissed her statement of defence and ordered Ellis-Abbott to repay $3.2 million, as well as nearly $850,000 in interest and $5,000 in costs.

“Ms. Ellis-Abbott taking and using Millbrook’s funds for her personal interests was clearly a breach of her fiduciary duty to handle those funds in the best interests of Millbrook only,” Muise’s decision said.

He also noted that Millbrook reserves the right to seek other damages and relief against Ellis-Abbott and her salon business, “in particular aggravated and punitive damages”.

According to the Nova Scotia Public Prosecution Service, Ellis-Abbott is scheduled to appear in Truro Supreme Court for a pre-trial conference in her criminal case on Dec. 22.


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