Desperate measures during desperate times will cost a former gas station owner more than $38,000.
Former Fas Gas owner Mai Nguyen was fined $38,440.53 for buying gasoline and cigarettes – minus the taxes – on First Nations reserve land using a status card and then reselling both.
“This will be a hardship on you,” said Judge Ron Lamperson, on Monday in Campbell River provincial court. “(But) you’re not going to jail and you’re fortunate the Crown did not ask for jail time.”
The 56-year-old mother of five adult children was facing six charges and had pleaded not guilty.
However, following discussions between her lawyer and the Crown, Nguyen changed her pleas to guilty on three counts: possession of tobacco for an unlawful purpose, not paying provincial taxes on gasoline, and not paying the carbon tax.
Defence lawyer James Hormoth told the the court that Nguyen bought the Fas Gas station and convenience store in 2006.
It’s located on the Island Highway, near Big Rock, and also located beside another gas station.
Selling gas is a competitive industry with thin profit margins, and those businesses took an economic hit in 2010-’11, during the reconstruction of the highway from Hilchey Road to Rockland Road.
As as a result of the prolonged road work, drivers detoured from the highway and that caused a financial crunch at Fas Gas. According to Hormoth, Nguyen was buying gas from Husky at a cost of $10,000 a delivery.
When her cash supply dwindled, she began enlisting the help of First Nations friends who had Indian status cards.
Using a pickup loaded with a large gasoline container, Nguyen and her buyers would purchase tax-exempt gas and cigarettes on reserve land, and then she would resell both at Fas Gas.
“Desperate times call for desperate measures and that’s when this scheme came into place,” said Hormoth.
According to Crown prosecutor David Fitzsimmons, authorities began investigating after seeing a sign up at Fas Gas prompting customers to buy a package of cigarettes for $5 with a minimum gas fill-up.
At the time, cigarettes were selling for $8-$9 a pack, so the authorities knew something was amiss.
In the end, Nguyen’s business failed and she was charged with six offences. During the investigation, authorities obtained Nguyen’s financial information and were able to determine the amount of tax she avoided was nearly $17,000.
The fine is just over double of that amount and Hormoth said his client will require several years to pay it off. Nguyen now lives in Nanaimo and takes care of children for a living.
“I am sympathetic to your situation,” said Judge Lamperson, referring to the lengthy construction project that hampered her business, “(but) these are serious charges.”