November 28, 2018 6:49 pm
Updated: November 28, 2018 10:04 pm

Two Kelowna women charged with stealing $180K from Okanagan hospice

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The Central Okanagan Hospice Association (COHA), whose mandate is to offer care, comfort and support for the dying, is under the microscope now that two former employees have been charged with fraud and theft.

A little more than a year ago, Global Okanagan was first to report that more than $180,000 had gone missing from COHA’s coffers between 2015 and 2017. The RCMP launched an investigation into the missing funds, resulting in charges against the former executive director of COHA and the office manager.

According to court documents, on Sept. 12, 2012, Susan Steen allegedly defrauded COHA of $71 by making a false claim for a cellphone expense. Steen is also accused of stealing more than $109,000 from COHA between July 2012 and April 2016, allegedly using the hospice’s credit card.

READ MORE: Charges anticipated after funds go missing from Central Okanagan Hospice Association

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COHA’s officer manager, Melanie Gray, is accused of stealing $69,000 between February 2013 and November 2015 by using the hospice’s credit card.

Neither currently work for the hospice association.

Global News contacted Steen, who admits she made mistakes and that she was dealing with a gambling problem.

“A profound gambling problem, actually,” she said over the phone.

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Steen says she began gambling when she moved from Ontario to Kelowna in 2010, that it was her way of dealing with stress associated with an ailing mother, a broken marriage and health issues. As she puts it, the casino was her calm place.

“When I was in that place, I had no pain, I had no stress. It was my safe place and so I did everything to stay there for as long as I could.”

Steen admits that she was using COHA’s credit card on slot machines, but at the time didn’t feel that what she was doing was wrong.

“No, I didn’t have a clue. I know this sounds so stupid. I had no idea that taking a credit card and putting it in the slot machine so I could stay there had anything to do with them. It was a total disconnect,” she said.

READ MORE: Halifax council takes ‘leap of faith,’ approves $250K grant for first hospice in Halifax

Steen says she’s in treatment for her gambling addiction and she lives with regret.

“I can tell you that I’m terribly remorseful,” she said. “I will never forgive myself for this. I have lost everything including at times my will to live.”

Steen says she didn’t know that her office manager and close friend, Melanie Gray, was also allegedly stealing from the hospice using the organization’s credit card and has been ordered not to have any contact with her.

Steen and Gray are due in court in early December.

Steen would not say how she’s going to plead to the charges.

Gray could not be reached for comment.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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