A St. Albert man will serve no jail time after pleading guilty to 28 counts of fraud, including an apartment rental scam.
On Monday Craig Archibald Ayers, 52, pleaded guilty to 28 of the 63 charges he was facing relating to fraud. He was given a two-year custodial sentence which will be served in the community. Ayers was also ordered to pay back $30,000 in restitution to his victims over three years.
The St. Albert resident told the court that he committed the fraud to pay off his son’s drug debts. He said his son had been struggling with addiction problems for many years. Ayers said that he was also trying to help out his then-girlfriend financially and help support his daughter.
Ayers’ counsel told the court that at the time he had been struggling with severe depression. During his financial troubles he said he felt the need to maintain a “certain appearance and lifestyle.”
The incidents of fraud all took place in 2016 and Ayers started writing large cheques from an account with just $26.68. The account was closed by the bank after it went $2,883.65 into overdraft.
Ayers continued to write multiple bad cheques to businesses and organizations across the community in February, March and April of 2016. Bad cheques were written to many businesses including a furniture store, landscaping company and a hair salon.
Ayers also wrote a fraudulent cheque to his daughter’s school so she could go on a trip.
On Nov. 6 Ayers wrote a cheque for $4,500 to purchase a French Bulldog puppy for his daughter from an account that had a balance of $14.81.
After writing the fraudulent cheques in some cases Ayers would attempt to pay back the businesses and owners the money they were owed.
Ayers’ counsel told the court that Ayers would continue to commit fraud to try to pay back his previous victims of fraud.
In May 2016 Ayers began a rental scam that resulted in 16 victims believing they were moving into the same townhouse in Sturgeon Heights at the same time. The townhouse was owned by his then-girlfriend and Ayers did not have the authority to rent out the unit.
The victims paid varying amounts of money to Ayers but typically he was given around $1,500 or $1,600 for a deposit on the rental unit. Most of the victims signed a rental agreement with Ayers. One man paid Ayers a damage deposit and two months of rent, totalling $4,800.
The victims believed they were moving into the unit in July or August of 2016.
In one instance the renter was moving in from the Crowsnest Pass and arrived in the area without a place to stay. Another renter was promised landscaping and air conditioning so they sold their air conditioner, lawnmower and snow blower.
In some instances the victims asked for money back from Ayers when they realized they had been scammed and sometimes he was able to pay back a portion of the money. In most cases Ayers would block the victim’s number on his phone, stop returning their calls, push the move-in date later or tell them they were no longer able to move in to the property.
One victim was alerted to the scam after Shaw Cable told her that multiple people had been trying to set up an account at the same address.
Ayers’ girlfriend eventually found out that he was running the rental scam at her property and reported the crime to the police. Multiple victims also reported Ayers to the RCMP.
Ayers was sentenced to two years of custodial sentence to be served in the community along with one year of probation. The judge accepted the joint submission presented by the prosecutor and the defence counsel that was arrived at after lengthy negotiations.
For the first eight months of his sentence Ayers will be on house arrest and can only leave his home under strict conditions, including going to work, court or for medical appointments or emergencies.
The next eight months of the sentence Ayers will no longer be on house arrest but will have to abide by a strict curfew and must be home between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m.
Ayers is currently employed and must pay back $30,000 in restitution to his victims over three years, which amounts to $900 per month.
Prosecutor Damian Rogers said that this sentence was agreed upon because of the poor mental state of Ayers when the offences were committed along with Ayers having a very limited criminal record before the 2016 frauds.
“He is also offering to make full restitution and that is likely something that would have not happened if he had been sent to jail,” Rogers said.
Rogers, who is a specially assigned prosecutor who only deals with fraud cases, said that although the amounts that Ayers was scamming his victims for were relatively low as compared to the other cases he had handled, he said that this was a very complex case with many victims.
In court, Ayers expressed his remorse and told the judge that he is looking forward to owning up to what happened and getting everybody paid back.
“I appreciate the chance to pay everybody back,” Ayers said. “I feel very bad for putting these people under the stress that I did.”
Ten victim impact statements were submitted although none of the victims attended court because Ayers was not scheduled to enter a guilty plea on Monday.