Once a scam artist always a scam artist.
That was the broad sentiment from some victims of Donald Quinnell, the man who faces a five-year prison term for close to two dozen counts of fraud and theft of elderly people Chilliwack and Agassiz last year.
The 48-year-old got choked up in the prisoner’s box during his sentencing hearing in provincial court in Chilliwack on Dec. 3. Crocodile tears, according to the elderly victims that remained in court
“He had to say that,” said one victim after Quinnell’s apology in court.
The victims, all of whom are in their mid-60s to 94-years-old, can’t be named because of a court-ordered publication ban.
Facing a lengthy trial and 15 counts of fraud under $5,000, 14 counts of theft under $5,000 and one count of possession of stolen property, Quinnell pleaded guilty to 22 counts on Oct. 16.
Quinnell had a variety of scams. In some cases he would convince a Good Samaritan to “lend” him money for a tow truck after a supposed accident, or they would give him money through some other convoluted scheme.
In other cases he promised he could get someone a great deal on carpet or countertops or appliances, take money and disappear.
Yet other cases were simple distraction scams where he would make off with a wallet or a purse.
In one case recounted to the Times by one of the victims in court last week, a man rang the doorbell of her home in a gated community and pretended to be the son of a neighbour. He said he needed a ride to the hospital, and eventually convinced her to give up $400. He then stole her cellphone and $60 when she wasn’t looking.
In another scam recounted in court, Quinnell knocked on a man’s door, told him he had been in a car accident and said he needed $200 for a tow truck. The man drove him to a bank at which time Quinnell said he left his bank card at home. The man lent him $200, and when they parted, the man realized Quinnell hadn’t just absconded with the cash but also stolen his camera, charger and other items from his house.
He was eventually arrested Jan. 2, 2015 after a scam in Agassiz that involved an 80-year-old woman and her husband. The woman drove Quinnell somewhere and the husband got suspicious, eventually calling 911.
Chilliwack RCMP aware of the string of crimes raced to Agassiz and eventually arrested Quinnell after a short foot chase.
Quinnell’s lawyer Ali Yusuf painted a picture of a man addicted to crack cocaine, desperate for money. Yusuf told the court he was “in the throes of a drug addiction” and he was shaking during some of the crimes.
“It doesn’t excuse it, but it does explain it,” he said.
In all the cases, the victims were elderly, trusting and many recounted, contrary to his lawyer’s description, that Quinnell was calm, measured and a “smooth talker.”
As Crown counsel Carolyn Kramer recounted the 22 cases, at one point Judge Wendy Young interrupted to ask Kramer about what looked like detailed planning in advance of the crimes.
“In some of these he ‘cased the joint’ if I can use that expression, in that he knew the name of other people in the neighbourhood?” Young asked.
“They were feeling the neighbourhood was cased,” Kramer said.
Crown counsel Anna Tosso submitted a binder with 16 victim impact statements to the judge. Many of those affected felt very embarrassed about what happened.
“In many of these cases, trust has been shattered,” Tosso said.
Some have made changes to their homes, others have changed behaviours, lost sleep, increased their distrust of strangers and even curbed donations and other helpful behaviour they did in the past.
As Tosso summarized the victim impact statements, a family member of Quinnell’s in the gallery started to cry. His father and another family member also attended part of the proceedings.
After the Crown and defence submissions, Quinnell read from a prepared statement. He stood up, turned his back to his family members and faced the front of the courtroom and had considerable difficulty speaking, seemingly overcome with emotion.
“I want to apologize to Chilliwack and citizens for the crimes I committed out here,” he said in part. “I preyed on their good nature so I could use crack cocaine.”
Quinnell apologized to his family and his fiancee who has stuck with him through the case. He also spoke to his addictions, how he overdosed twice last year and said he is not a violent person.
“I’m at the mercy of this court to not give up on me,” Quinnell said. “I truly am a good person when cocaine is not ruining my life.”
After the hearing, the three remaining victims who stuck around mostly agreed that Quinnell appeared less to be apologizing to them and more feeling sorry for himself.
Defence and Crown made a joint sentencing submission of five years jail minus credit for one year of “dead time” since he was arrested Jan. 2.
This is not the first time Quinnell has been involved in fraud and thefts. In 2008, he was sentenced to six years in prison in Calgary after he was convicted of going to seniors complexes on the pretence of selling fresh fish, alcohol, cigarettes and other items. He would take cash and disappear and, as in the Chilliwack and Agassiz cases, he would steal money, wallets or credit cards.
While the sentence requested by the Crown in the current case is lower than the 2008 sentence, the latter involved more money (more than $15,000) and more victims. At that sentencing hearing his lawyer said Quinnell had a “pathological gambling addiction.”
“He was caught before this got to the size that it got in Calgary,” Kramer told the judge last week.
Earlier in 2008, Quinnell also pleaded guilty to a similar string of scams in Vancouver and was handed a 25-month prison sentence.
Young will hand down her sentence on Dec. 17.