Former Nunavut SAO gets house arrest for $150,000 theft from hamlet
Baker Lake’s Dennis Zettler skimmed lottery earnings for years, hid cash around house
The disgraced former senior administrative officer of Baker Lake will spend the next two years under house arrest at his home in Ontario, after being convicted of skimming an estimated $150,000 in lottery revenues from hamlet coffers since 2009.
Dennis Zettler, 66, shook uncontrollably and wept at times during his appearance at the Nunavut Court of Justice in Iqaluit, Sept. 14, as he received his sentence from Nunavut Chief Justice Neil Sharkey, after waiving his right to a trial.
Zettler pleaded guilty to one count of breach of trust by a public officer and possession of property over $5,000, stemming from his arrest in May last year after RCMP officers discovered large sums of cash in his Baker Lake residence.
“He acknowledges that he has lost his career. He has lost his name,” said Zettler’s lawyer, Sal Caramanna, who told the court that his client “was always motivated to resolve this case.”
The Crown, as part of a negotiated settlement, stayed another charge of theft.
According to an agreed statement of facts submitted by lawyers, Zettler skimmed earnings from hundreds of hamlet-run bingo and Nevada lotteries between 2009 and the time of his arrest on May 26, 2016.
Hamlet lottery earnings were regularly brought by workers to Zettler’s house for safe keeping at the conclusion of each event.
That allowed him to skim—by his own admission— “about $200 to $300” from bi-monthly lottery earnings before they were ever recorded in hamlet ledgers “because I could get away with it,” Zettler said, according to the Crown.
“He stated that the remainder of the money was counted and then deposited into the hamlet’s accounts and that the records would appear correct because he wrote down the total after the money was stolen,” Crown lawyer Leah Winters, told the court.
Zettler would then routinely travel to Toronto and deposit the stolen cash into his personal bank account.
Zettler was employed as Baker Lake’s SAO for more than 22 years, and managed nearly all of the hamlet’s financial transactions.
“He created the conditions that made it perfect for him to be able to do what he ended up doing,” Winters said.
Zettler confessed to his crime after RCMP officers discovered large quantities of cash hoarded around his house in luggage, shoes and jars.
Ironically, police were only in Zettler’s house because he’d called them—to report a theft of cash from his house.
“Ok, I steal money, I’m guilty,” Zettler told the RCMP officers in his home after they confronted him about the cash they’d found, according to the statement of fact.
Officers found more than $4,000 in lottery cash that was stuffed into a pair of shoes, and another $9,560 was hidden in an old piece of luggage “in plain sight.”
The Crown credited Zettler with taking, “responsibility for his actions almost immediately,” and admitted that proving the theft during a trial would have been “difficult,” according to Winters.
That’s due to the quality of the hamlet’s financial records, and the number of “irregularities” found by forensic auditors.
Sharkey also acknowledged that Zettler forfeited his challenge to possible Charter of Rights violations, because, as a victim, he had allowed the RCMP to enter his residence to investigate an unrelated crime.
“I believe you are truly sincere in your remorse,” Sharkey told Zettler, before sentencing him to two years—minus one day—of house arrest at his home in the greater Toronto area.
Zettler will live under restrictive curfew, and was sentenced to about 350 hours of combined community service to be served over his two-year sentence and subsequent 18 months of probation.
Zettler also provided the court with a cheque payable to the hamlet of Baker Lake for $150,000, amounting to full restitution for the money he stole, according to lawyers.
Caramanna said his client was “extremely sorry, and he has been from the beginning.”
“He is tremendously remorseful and recognizes the impact on the community,” Caramanna said, adding that Zettler was “living in constant fear” of possible retaliation.
Caramanna reminded the court that his client never spent the money he stole, and his motivation to commit the theft was based on an irrational “paranoia of retirement.”
Zettler, wearing a beige jacket and black pants, and with balding white hair and a moustache, fought tears through a muffled “I’m ok,” when he was asked by Sharkey if he wanted to address the court before he was officially sentenced.
“A conditional sentence of imprisonment is still imprisonment,” Sharkey said.
“You’ve done the right thing.”