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Fraudster ousted from beloved Barrie charity

Audrey Bishop pleaded guilty in 2018 of defrauding nearly 15 victims out of an estimated $150,000; since being paroled had moved to the Barrie area and was working with Glowing Hearts
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From left are Audrey Bishop, Ruth Nelson (wife of Frank Nelson), Emileigh Thompson (Granddaughter of Frank), Cindy Thompson, Brenda Richardson and Ian Churchward. Jessica Owen/BarrieToday

Over the weekend, smiling faces were captured in photos by BarrieToday at the Glowing Hearts for the Holidays event, which is run annually by the charity Glowing Hearts Community Give and Get.

The charity was started by beloved Barrie man Frank Nelson prior to his death two years earlier.

However, the reach of those photos brought forward a sinister secret that has rocked the Barrie charity.

“We don’t want negative news getting out in the media, but at the same time, (BarrieToday) posted about the event, which was great, and somebody contacted me. If that hadn’t happened, we don’t know to what extent... down the road what could have happened,” Cindy Thompson, president of Glowing Hearts and daughter of Nelson, told BarrieToday.

“I’m grateful it was caught when it was," she added. 

In the main photo of the gallery was a picture of the four event organizers, including a woman relatively new to the area, Audrey Bishop.

Two days later, both BarrieToday and Glowing Hearts received an onslaught of messages from eagle-eyed victims of Bishop.

Bishop pleaded guilty in February 2018 to 30 counts of theft, forgery and fraud in relation to stealing from charities and individuals. Nearly 15 victims were spread from Nova Scotia to Windsor, Ont.

According to reports in the Windsor Star, Bishop participated in a variety of schemes.

In a scheme in Nova Scotia, Bishop told people she had been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The local community gave Bishop nearly $5,000 to help her fight the fake cancer diagnosis.

Bishop also conducted romance scams, a thrifting scam and basic theft.

The total estimated amount of which Bishop pleaded guilty to defrauding victims was $150,000.

Glowing Hearts executive director Brenda Richardson told BarrieToday she was shocked to hear about Bishop’s criminal past.

“We were not aware, at all,” Richardson said Wednesday. “She was dismissed this morning.”

Richardson said Bishop had not been given access to any of the money that came to the charity in the year she spent there.

“I’m still in shock, to be honest,” said Richardson.

“Frank was all about giving people second chances. He was all about people being able to change,” she added.

Bishop served six months of a three-year sentence and was released on parole in July 2018. A condition of her parole was to not to be in a position of responsibility, paid or unpaid, for the management of finances or investments for any other individual, charity, business or institution.

A decision from the Parole Board of Canada reads: “Over the course of a significant time frame, you engaged in a variety of schemes and scams to defraud a large group of individuals. These people trusted you and were often doing things in the belief that they were helping you. Some of the schemes were quite detailed and complex while others were crimes of opportunity, where you took advantage of other people's good faith and trust."

Thompson was also in shock this week at the revelation.

“When Audrey applied with us, she did not disclose this information on her application. She told us she had a record, but what she told us was very different from the truth,” Thompson said. “We were lied to and deceived.”

Thompson said the small, grassroots organization does allow people with criminal records to participate, but they need to be upfront and provide police checks.

She said the organization had asked Bishop repeatedly for her police check, and she had been given a deadline to provide the check, which was quickly approaching.

“It’s unfortunate and it hurts to read some of the things she’s done,” said Thompson. “I wholeheartedly believe in forgiveness, but at the same time, moving forward, you have to be honest, and she wasn’t honest with us.”

Thompson says her heart aches to think about what her father Frank would have thought about the situation.

“To know that this happened would really hurt him. It hurt me, too. A lot of us are very close. It’s a small organization," she said. "We would have been there to support her if she would have been upfront. That’s the part that hurts me. It makes me wonder, can I trust anything?”

Thompson said the charity was also under the impression that Bishop was meeting and speaking with her parole officer about her activities all along.

“We do have people in our organization that do have records for minor offences. But, we always make sure they’re safe. We want to make sure our clientele is protected, and that’s our priority,” she said.

Thompson said stricter rules will be put in place regarding criminal record checks.

“Our board is going to discuss it, but we’re going to either have people provide their record checks upfront, or within the first two weeks. We have to make sure we cover ourselves,” she said.

On Thursday, Barrie police communications co-ordinator Peter Leon said the offender management unit is investigating.

“They are aware of what has taken place. Parole is looking into the matter,” he said.

BarrieToday reached out to Audrey Bishop for comment, but the request was not answered.


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Jessica Owen

About the Author: Jessica Owen

Jessica Owen is an experienced journalist working for Village Media since 2018, primarily covering Collingwood and education.
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