A Halifax bookkeeper is serving an eight-year prison sentence for stealing $7.6 million from her former employer. Over a four-year period, she gambled away almost $6.4 million.
Sherri Lamarche spent 15 years working as the bookkeeper for Banc Group, one of Halifax’s largest property developers. In that time, she gained the implicit trust of her employer, Besim Halef, who thought of the determined Lamarche as not just an employee, but family.
For many years, Halef had no idea that the woman he once described as a family member had embezzled $7.6 million from his business. He was just as clueless that she gambled away almost that much.
A recent Maclean’s story by Sarah Treleaven detailed the ins-and-outs of the once-collegial relationship destroyed by betrayal and mistrust.
Lamarche used lengthy gambling history to cover her tracks
Lamarche first began siphoning small amounts below $10,000 in 2018, sending cheque after cheque to her then husband, Shawn’s auto body business, Independent Custom Enterprises Coachworks, or ICE. As the bookkeeper for both Banc and ICE, her plan seemed foolproof.
As the theft grew, so did Lamarche’s confidence and thirst for the finer things. On top of the Camaro, Lamarche:
- Paid off her mortgage.
- Made a series of renovations on her home costing roughly $180,000.
- Traveled extensively, including Las Vegas getaways and safaris in Tanzania.
- Transfered some $120,000 to family members.
Given Lamarche’s financial standing, and more importantly her simple outlook on life, such spending might have caused red flags amongst those closest to her. But it didn’t because she told them the same thing she always did, ‘I hit the jackpot.’
Gambling was one of Lamarche’s covers for the stolen funds
For Lamarche, gambling in Nova Scotia casinos offered asylum. It all started at the Legends Gaming Centre just off the Trans-Canada Highway, and burgeoned under her own roof when she discovered online gambling on New Year’s Day in 2018.
According to Treleaven, online gambling became a daily exercise for Lamarche. In the’ time between mid-January and mid-February 2018, Lamarche spent $30,975 wagering online. That number ballooned to $196,500 during the same period in 2019, and $248,500 in 2020.
Considering the Atlantic Lottery Corporation launched the only legal online casino in Nova Scotia in July 2022, it seems likely that Lamarche bet through illegal grey market sites.
Her total gambling ventures from January 2017 to June 2021 resulted in almost $6.4 million in lost wagers. In turn, she won just $384,000.
As Treleaven wrote:
“The losses were spectacular, but for a while, it didn’t seem to matter. The money at [Lamarche’s] disposal seemed limitless. She was routinely writing five-figure cheques to ICE Coachworks, sometimes even larger ones. In January of 2021, she made a cheque out to her husband’s company for $231,979.73.”
Toxic work environment, not addiction caused theft, per Lamarche
Lamarche’s siphoning spree came to a sudden halt on June 2, 2021, after Halef received a call from Scotiabank.
In that call, the bank employee explained that a suspicious cheque to ICE Coachworks had been flagged. Halef, who had originally gotten ICE off the ground with a $10,000 interest-free loan, finally put the pieces together.
Once he confronted Lamarche about the transaction, she knew the jig was up and folded immediately.
This realization left Halef dumbfounded and struggling to comprehend the tidal wave that just crashed over him. The woman he once considered family had stolen more than $7.6 million in 328 fraudulent transactions.
What ensued after was nothing but contempt and chaos. However, all the deceit and pilferage were not fuelled by addiction, according to Lamarche. It was merely a product of the unbearable work environment Halef had allegedly created at Banc.
Lamarche said the family atmosphere was all just a facade. She told Treleaven that the toxic culture at Banc was so horrible that it drove her deeper into her addiction, which served as an “emotional refuge.” From there, the habit became out of control and required constant funding.
Banc was unscrupulous, Lamarche alledged. In July 2021, she launched a formal fraud complaint against Halef, claiming he received pandemic assistance to which he wasn’t eligible. Lamarche also told Treleaven the firm had committed corporate misdeeds that she, as bookkeeper, was complicit in carrying out.
Despite Lamarche’s insistence, no evidence ever emerged to support the alleged improprieties at Banc Group.
The law finally caught up to the former bookkeeper
In October 2022, Sherri Lamarche received a sentence of eight years in prison for her role in systematically defrauding Besim Halef and Banc Group.
The news was first reported by Saltwire, a local Halifax news outlet, at the time of sentencing. Judge Christine Driscoll, who laid down the punishment, called Lamarche’s actions “abhorrent.” As an additional part of her punishment, Judge Driscoll imposed a restitution order for the full amount, totalling exactly $7,749,799.
Sherri Lamarche is currently serving her sentence at the Nova Institution for Women, near Truro.