Court hears how VLT addiction spawned scheme

She began by spending her life savings. When those funds were depleted, she blew her paycheques and maxed out her credit cards with cash advances, which she pumped into video lottery terminals.

But that wasn't enough money to feed the addiction that had taken hold of her. So Christine Cecylia Armstrong started to forge her husband's cheques. To supplement those ill-gotten funds, she sold off a diamond from her wedding ring for $1,000.

It wasn't until all of those avenues were exhausted that Armstrong began siphoning money from her employer, defence lawyer Vic Russell explained Monday.

"Things truly became unravelled when she became introduced to VLTs."

He said the addiction began innocently enough when she started playing the machines during her lunch breaks. The 45-year-old then varied her work hours and spent three hours a day sitting in front of the terminals.

Soon after, she began lying to her family and sneaking out on weekends to gamble.

Armstrong pleaded guilty in provincial court to one count of fraud over $5,000.

In doing so, she admitted that while employed in a cheque clearing house for several large banks, she absconded with $186,202 between February 1999 and August 2000.

Court heard the scheme involved skimming money from transactions that went through the clearing house, which she electronically deposited in one of her personal accounts.

Russell pointed out that her activities went unnoticed for some period of time despite two audits being conducted by her employer.

Armstrong has since lost her job and has been diagnosed with a pathological gambling addiction and major depression.

Russell asked Judge Sherry Van De Veen to consider a conditional sentence. However, Crown prosecutor Roy Smith opposes that position. He is seeking two years less a day in jail.