By Delon Shurtz
Southern Alberta Newspapers
A Manyberries woman who did not disclose a change in her financial situation for several years while receiving thousands of dollars in government benefits, has been fined and ordered to repay the money to which she was not entitled.
Stephanie Ann Rouzes, 39, pleaded guilty July 13 in Lethbridge court of justice to one count of knowingly omitting information under the Income Support Employment Standards Act.
She was fined $1,500 and ordered to pay restitution of $34,027.
Court was told Rouzes fraudulently collected benefits between March of 2017 and April 2021, and during that time had provided information to government departments showing she was entitled to the money.
“There had been representations that she had made which had become untrue during that period,” explained Crown Prosecutor Clayton Giles. “She began to have access to money that she did not report to the income support group from which she was receiving benefits.”
Giles said that misrepresentation allowed her to collect money, which she would not have received had she provided updated information as required by the financial assistance program.
Defence lawyer Justin Dean told court he and the Crown arrived at the joint submission for a fine and restitution order after a considerable amount of quid quo pro.
“Significant weight goes into this guilty plea,” Dean said. “This would have been a very long and arduous trial. There was a significant number of documents, and there were issues with the Crown’s case.”
Dean noted Rouzes, who receives support payments under AISH, Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped, was in 2003 a paralegal in Medicine Hat, then moved to Calgary where she continued working in the field of law with other firms before switching careers to a call centre for a cleaning service.
“She did have prior addictions issues just at the tail end of this offence date and prior, which led to her making bad decisions,” Dean said. “I’m advised now that she is clean, sober, doing much better, and since this offence, I don’t believe there’s been any subsequent charges.”
Dean added Rouzes is on income support resulting from a psychological assessment, and she is working on her mental health before she re-enters the workforce.
Rouzes had also been charged with fraud over $5,000 but it was withdrawn by the Crown. The Crown also withdrew identical charges against a co-accused, Travis Jason Stromsmoe.