David St. Denis had a photographic memory. And in the end, that helped prove his undoing. On Tuesday, December 1, St. Denis, the former financial secretary of Canadian Auto Workers Local 1959, pleaded guilty to embezzling nearly $13,000 from the Windsor-based affiliate of the United Auto Workers, and was sentenced to one year of probation immediately afterward. St. Denis, 49, had been accused of forging the signature of the local vice-president on union checks and depositing the checks to a personal account. The union represents workers for Canadian Salt Company.
Canadian prosecutors had charged that St. Denis, who served as local financial secretary during 2000-04, had forged $12,992.20 worth of checks, plus another check made out to his bank Visa account in an amount exceeding $9,000. He would be arrested in October 2006 and charged with fraud totaling around $55,000. St. Denis initially pleaded not guilty, claiming that the allegedly incriminating evidence – check duplicates – were virtually indecipherable. The prosecution countered that the original checks were unavailable as evidence for a good reason: St. Denis removed them from his office. The defendant in turn claimed that he merely had stored the originals in the union hall basement, and failed to aid to look for them because he feared for his life at the hands of corrupt union officials. Yet the court heard at least nine phone messages St. Denis had left on the union office voice mail system indicating his willingness to repay the sum of $12,992.20 – precisely the sum of the cancelled checks. That was the smoking gun.
In issuing a probation sentence, Superior Court Justice Renee Pomerance noted that St. Denis had committed “a significant breach of trust,” adding that he already had paid back the money he took. St. Denis’ worries aren’t over, however. The union is suing him for $75,000, alleging that he stole more than $70,000 by forging signatures to himself in order to pay credit card bills. All of this raises some questions about union record-keeping. Did St. Denis steal $22,000, $55,000 or $75,000? The answer lies with the original checks. And they can’t be found.