With parents and young hockey players dreams of a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Europe long ago shattered, Michael Elphicke sat in the prisoner box of the Penticton courthouse in tears.
After learning he would receive two years of house arrest and serve three years of probation for the a charge of fraud over $5,000 and another for the unauthorized management of a lottery scheme, Elphicke lowered his head as if in relief he would not be behind bars. The pleas he had made earlier in the day about his waning health, and need for a special form of kidney dialysis, to Justice Austin Cullen had been heard.
Cullen stated that this case would normally require “a sentence of incarceration,” however, the issue is the treatment that best takes away the risk of his health is not available in a correctional facility and only at the hospital in Calgary where he currently lives.
For the hockey families, who have waited almost six years to get a resolution on the matter, one couple even coming to sit in on the sentencing while on vacation in Penticton, they remain in disbelief.
“When we found out that all the money had been taken from the accounts which had been set up for this trip in 2012 we were blown away. We found it hard to believe that individuals would bait the kids in this manner for their own personal gains. We had asked friends and families to sponsor jerseys and banners as fundraisers. We sold tickets for raffles that never happened. It is embarrassing to be used in this manner. I can live with the fact we paid for a portion of this trip with money of our own but to ask others to help us in raising money and to solicit shoppers in malls and friends and families buying tickets, just as a means to support Elphicke’s expenses pisses me off,” said Ken Whitehead in a victim impact statement.
While a majority of the families resided in the Okanagan, some were from other parts of B.C. and one family from Washington State.
Dennis Loman, part-owner of the WHL Tri-City Americans, who planned on not only going on the trip with his son but bringing along his daughter and wife said they had put forward $25,250. In his statement, he said it was more than just the economic impact. Both his kids changed their foreign language requirement in school to learn German for the trip. The family also put in days travelling to the Okanagan to help fundraise and for parent meetings.
Elphicke was found guilty the three charges by a judge in October, on Wednesday the second count of fraud was stayed by Justice Austin Cullen and the unauthorized management of a lottery scheme charge resulted in a three year probation at the completion of his conditional sentence. As part of his sentence a restitution of $117,000 was ordered to be repaid to the 16 families that he took money from.
Elphicke was one of two men accused of the charges, but the only one to stand trial so far. Co-accused, Loren Reagan was believed to be working out of the country when the trial started and a bench warrant was made for his arrest. On March 3 he was arrested in Calgary and has remained in jail while awaiting trial after he was denied bail. He is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.
The failed youth hockey trip to Europe, organized by Okanagan Elite Hockey Group, which Elphicke and Reagan created, was supposed to happen in the fall of 2012. Elphicke and Reagan recruited the families in May 2011 who then made payments and were offered credit towards the $5,500 per person trip by donating their time selling meat draws and raffle tickets, which was not authorized by the B.C. Lottery Corporation. By the middle of January 2012, when parents started questioning what was happening with the funds, just $13,000 remained in the Okanagan Elite Hockey Association accounts.
In his decision at the trial, Justice Bruce Greyell said both the men began paying money from the OEHA bank accounts to themselves and using it for another venture — a hockey dorm project in Penticton, that also ultimately failed.
Elphicke asserted throughout the trial that he was only acting in a minor consulting role for Reagan in the hockey dorm project. However, Crown counsel Patrick Fullerton said he was downplaying that role and Elphicke was co-signing the cheques that went to the project and that he had signed off on five to 10 cheques a month that was draining the OEHA account.
Elphicke, who claimed if he was incarcerated he would lose his spot on the organ donation list, continued to deny he purposely frauded anyone.
“I really didn’t do my homework on who my partner was and obviously it paid negative dividends for me and my family by not doing that. I got involved not for the money component, but for the opportunity for my son and my wife to be able to go on this trip. The salesman in me saw an opportunity to make a little money for that as well and the trip itself would be paid for,” said Elphicke. “It wasn’t a sit down and hatch a plan. I saw an opportunity to do something pretty cool with my son who was just staring to grow into his hockey skill level. I do feel sorry. I feel sorry that I didn’t do more to stand in the way of this man and the funds and time effort everybody put into this. I did what I thought I was supposed to do legally and it wasn’t enough.”
Elphicke was ordered to to issue his first restitution payment on Aug. 31. As part of his sentence, for the first 12 months, he is not to have more than one visitor that is a family member and no visitors from 8 p.m. to 7 a.m. He must remain in his house at all times with the exception of emergency situations and scheduled hospital trips.