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Dartmouth car salesman jailed 30 months for defrauding customers

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A Dartmouth used car salesman has been jailed for taking money from customers for vehicles that never showed up.

Michael David Surette, 53, defrauded 15 customers of $43,310, a Dartmouth provincial court judge said in an Aug. 12 sentencing decision that was recently released.

The offences took place between 2015 and 2018 when Surette was a salesman at Used Car Factory 21. For part of that time, he was on probation for previous fraud-related convictions and his conditions barred him from holding a job that included financial transactions.

Surette pleaded guilty during court appearances last January and February to 14 fraud charges and two counts of breaking his probation.

Judge Frank Hoskins imposed a 44-month jail sentence but taking into account time served, the actual term will be 30 months.

A presentence report said Surette accepted responsibility for his actions, quoting him as saying “I guess I had no reason to do it, I shouldn’t have done it. I guess opportunity.”

In all of the cases, the fraud victims paid for a vehicle - after being hounded by Surette for the money - but never received it. Surette repeatedly gave them excuses such as the vehicle was being repaired or cleaned.

"Mr. Surette's sole motivation was greed," Hoskins said. "The fraudulent acts were an easy way for him to make money. ... There is no doubt, in my view, that the victim impact statements describe the pain and hardship caused by Mr. Surette’s fraudulent behaviour. He repeatedly preyed on the vulnerability of his victims."

For example, the judge noted one customer - who at the time had a minimum wage part-time job that sometimes began at 5 a.m. - borrowed more than $3,900 for a vehicle he never obtained. As a result, he had to walk to work 30 minutes each way.

“(Michael David Surette) simply preyed on vulnerable, trusting individuals, who, in some cases, repeatedly gave him the monies that he said he needed because they trusted him and believed that he was taking care of their needs."

- Judge Frank Hoskins

Crown attorney William Matherson had sought a prison sentence of five years, while Surette’s lawyer Patrick Atherton looked for a penalty of under two years.

Hoskins' decision noted that Surette, who went to high school in Bridgetown, Annapolis County, has a stable family background with no addiction issues.

He has worked in auto sales for most of his adult life, completed a two-year electronics program in 1988 and has taken courses in business and computer programming. He has also completed various management courses.

Besides the lack of extenuating circumstances, "what is an extremely aggravating feature of this case is the relentlessness of the pursuit of monies from vulnerable victims, which is a reoccurring theme that underlies most of the offences," the judge said.

“As the facts and the victim impact statements indicate, Mr. Surette orchestrated the fabrications and lies that facilitated his perpetration of the frauds. He simply preyed on vulnerable, trusting individuals, who, in some cases, repeatedly gave him the monies that he said he needed because they trusted him and believed that he was taking care of their needs.

"Most, if not all, of the victims are of modest financial means, and the impact of Mr. Surette’s fraudulent behaviour will presumably adversely affect them for a long time, as revealed by the victim impact statements.”

Surette was ordered to pay $38,841 to the victims. The amount was lower than the actual amount defrauded because the owner of Used Car Factory 21, Joel Sapp, subsequently provided refunds, credit or alternative vehicles to some of the victims.

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