A B.C. provincial court judge sentenced a Richmond insurance agent to one year in jail Thursday for stealing cash from dozens of customers' insurance payments to pay for his trips to a casino.
Ka Chun Chan, 48, preyed on Chinese immigrants with very little command of English. According to an agreed statement of facts he claimed he took the money to maintain a gambling habit.
He instructed clients to make cheques payable to him rather than to the Insurance Corporation of B.C.
The scheme began to unravel when ICBC started notifying clients their Autoplan premiums were in arrears or unpaid.
In the meantime — dozens of motorists with high-end vehicles were driving around Lower Mainland roads without insurance.
Judge Ron Fratkin said the fact Chan selected vulnerable newcomers to the country was an aggravating factor.
"Newcomers to this country should never be given the message that there is corruption," said Fratkin. "And where we do find corruption — we should deal with it swiftly."
Chan pleaded guilty to 19 counts of fraud, four counts of theft and one count of uttering a forged document.
He worked for three different agencies between 2004 and 2009 and took a total of $76,163 from at least 35 customers. He and his wife have since sold their Richmond home and paid ICBC the full amount.
The victims told investigators they spoke very little English and trusted Chan to act honestly. They paid him directly and then contacted him when the insurer called them to say there was a problem.
"The accused advised them that there has been a computer error or ICBC had made a mistake. He advised them not to worry that he would take care of the problem," reads the agreed statement of facts.
"The accused paid back a portion of the debt for the clients ... he went to insurance offices where the clients were not known and nobody would ask any questions as to what he was doing. He dragged out the payments for months. All the while, he had use of the client's money."
In one case, ICBC seized a client's license plates. In another, Chan accompanied a client to the insurer's North Vancouver offices and waited with her in the lobby before saying he had to leave before they could speak with anyone.
"Did he send a message to them that Canada is a country where people do things honestly," asked Fratkin. "Or are they going to get the message from Mr. Chan that Canada is a corrupt place."
Chan was fired from Admiral Insurance in Richmond in June 2009 after they became aware of the thefts. But he still managed to get a job at New World Insurance a month later, where he stole an additional $34,285 from 14 clients.
New World only became aware of the allegations when they were contacted by an investigator from the Insurance Council of BC, the body which regulates insurance agents.
Chan claimed to have a gambling addiction — but couldn't prove that he'd spent the money in any casinos. His lawyer presented the court with gas receipts from a station nearby River Rock casino.
But Crown prosecutor Louisa Winn told Fratkin the real motive was greed.
"What this comes down to is that the Crown takes the position that there's no objective evidence to verify that Mr. Chan had a gambling addiction."
Speaking in Mandarin, Chan gave a brief apology to the court.
"I'm very sorry," he said. "It's never too late for one to turn around to correct their way."
Winn noted that a pre-sentence report found Chan to be remorseful only when thinking of the impact of his crime on himself or his family.