SIMCOE – A former small-town bank employee who stole more than $500,000 will avoid jail after a judge here accepted a joint sentencing submission, though he admitted he wasn’t “in love” with it.

Justice Gethin Edward agreed to a community sentence that allows Dana Studiman, 39, to live at home under a year-long curfew and continue to work to pay back at least a portion of the money she took.

“You can tell I’m struggling with this idea but, at the end of the day, I don’t think the joint submission is a miscarriage of justice,” Edward said at the sentencing hearing.

Studiman was the “banking centre leader” of the CIBC branch in Port Rowan, a Lake Erie village located a 90-minute drive southeast of London. She pleaded guilty to fraud over $5,000 – stealing the money not so much from the bank but from its clients, many of them elderly and vulnerable.

Over almost two years, Studiman took money from client accounts, siphoned off overage amounts at the end of business days and redeemed GIC accounts from 28 clients. In a list of those affected, a CIBC investigation found the stolen amounts ranged from just $475 from one client to another who lost $121,000.

The bank reimbursed all those affected, including the estates of nine people who are deceased, and found it was out a total of $606,477.

Studiman told investigators she used the money to pay off her own credit cards and line of credit, along with financing a truck, doing renovations on a motel she owns, taking a trip to Cuba and shopping expenses.

“Frankly, she never should have been in the position she was,” assistant Crown attorney Lynette Fritzley said at Studiman’s sentencing.

But, added Fritzley, the woman quickly pleaded guilty, got a new job, paid $75,000 of restitution, and has been in daily counselling to deal with contributing factors.

“The Crown has also taken into consideration the unprecedented backlog of cases in Simcoe and when we have someone willing to plead guilty and take full responsibility, we are willing to give credit for that.”

Studiman’s defence lawyer, Jerry Herszkopf, said his client had cooperated with her former employer and the bank connected her to medical help.

“Here’s a woman who gave years to her employer. It would have been better if they caught her earlier,” Herszkopf said.

According to an agreed statement of facts, in 2021 the bank uncovered the massive fraud, which took place from 2016 to 2018, after its internal audit system showed an unusually high number of client and suspense accounts in the branch where Studiman worked.

Suspense accounts are used to temporarily record a transaction.

The judge expressed his concerns about the breadth of the fraud, telling Studiman it took planning, a concerted effort and wasn’t a “one-time deal.” Studiman said she’s tried to make amends.

“I’ve done everything I can to help make things better and deal with the guilt, the remorse and the shame from something I did so many years ago,” Studiman told Edward. “There are a lot of ‘whys’ I’ll never have answers for and I’ve gone through a lot of therapy.

“I see a therapist every day and am continuing learning and growing.”

The judge noted she’s made “efforts at restitution” but noted the bank is still out $530,000.

“When (banks) lose money, they make it up by service charges or any other mechanism they can so, at the end of the day, the people who deal with CIBC, in essence, will pay for your misdeeds,” Edward said.

The Port Rowan CIBC branch closed permanently in the summer of 2018.

Edward sentenced Studiman to a community sentence of 23 months, including a year-long curfew, continued counselling and a three-year probation period. During those five years, she was ordered to continue her efforts at making restitution of at least $250 a month.

“I don’t see you paying it all unless you win a lottery,” said the judge, ruling that whatever is still owing after her probation will become a freestanding restitution order.

Studiman has since moved from the area.

[email protected]