A former City of Surrey planner was under a great deal of pressure, and failed to submit funds to the city in a moment of poor decision, his lawyer said this week.
At his sentencing hearing, Akonyu Akolo’s defence lawyer Jennifer Currie described how her client was rushing off to Uganda to see his sister who was dying of AIDS. In his hurry, he neglected to submit $65,000 in cheques to the city for a builder’s development cost charges.
Currie painted the elaborate scheme that followed as the act of a man who was afraid for his job and was trying to avoid getting caught.
“In dealing with this developer, he was focused on getting back to his sister in Uganda,” Currie told the judge.
The judge wasn’t entirely convinced of the spontaneous nature of the crime.
“There’s more to this than single act of bad judgment isn’t there?” the judge asked. “There’s a series of events–it extends over a period of time.”
Currie acknowledged that, but also pointed out there have been a significant amount of punishing factors affecting Akolo already.
“He lost his career in a very public way,” she said. “His family has suffered the same negative impact.”
Both Crown and defence lawyers requested jail time for Akolo ranging from three to 15 months for breach of trust by a public officer.
Akolo pleaded guilty to the charge in September.
Crown prosecutor Kevin Marks is asking the court to sentence Akolo to 15 months of incarceration.
Currie asked for three to four months of jail time.
While a sentence of nine to 12 months of community service was an option, she said, the defendant needs to work and provide for his family and the longer sentence would keep Akolo from doing so.
Akolo, who was fired in 2010, was criminally charged in 2011 after a lengthy police investigation.
He originally faced five charges – bribing an agent, corrupt municipal official, breach of trust by a public officer, giving false account to deceive principal, and fraudulent concealment.
Akolo was in charge of area planning and development for South Surrey. He had worked for the city for 17 years.
A developer he approached reported him to the city and to the police on April 2010.
The court heard Akolo offered to take $30,000 for what he called “professional consulting services” from the developer, in exchange for not cashing cheques worth $65,000 of fees to the city.
Currie said Akolo claimed he had forgotten about the cheques and didn’t deposit them after the development was approved because he feared for his job if his mistake was noticed.
During their investigation, police found no criminal wrongdoing on the part of the developer or any other Surrey staffers.
Akolo initially denied all the allegations.
The City of Surrey also has a civil lawsuit against Akolo over missing funds.
In a suit filed in April 2010, the city claimed unnamed developers acted in conspiracy with Akolo to bilk the city out of various development fees. The city also accused Akolo of using the funds he took to purchase his home in North Delta. Those allegations have yet to be proven in court.