It’s safe to say Michael Corneau won’t be considering a career in debt collections again any time soon.
“No, no, no. Never, never. Never,” the 41-year-old told The Telegram, using his hands to stress the point, as he left provincial court with his lawyer Tuesday morning.
Corneau, a former bill collector, was acquitted of a charge of impersonating a sheriff’s officer, after Judge Jacqueline Brazil said the Crown hadn’t proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt.
In January 2017, Corneau called a woman to try and collect money she owed for her car repair bill. The woman testified last December she had been on her way to a meeting of her dart league when a man called her cellphone, saying he was a sheriff’s officer and was going to come to her home and collect either the money or her vehicle. When the woman arrived at her dart game, she gave her phone to her friend, Kimberly Stockwood — a longtime sheriff’s officer — who answered it when Corneau called back.
Stockwood told the court she asked the man who he was, and he told her his name was Michael Hennessey and he was a sheriff’s officer.
“I said, ‘Oh, Michael Hennessey, you’re a sheriff’s officer, are you?’ I repeated everything back to him. I cautioned him that impersonating a sheriff’s officer is a criminal offence,” Stockwood testified. “I told him I was actually a sheriff’s officer and had been for 20 years in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, and that there was no one employed by the sheriff’s office by the name of Michael Hennessey.”
Corneau also took the stand at his own trial, telling the court he had been hired to collect outstanding bill payments on behalf of A+ Auto Centre. He had called the woman from his home while having a beer and had “tried to be a little intimidating,” using “interrogation tactics but nothing outside the boundaries,” and only raising his voice when it seemed the person on the phone was in a crowded place and having trouble hearing him,” he said.
“To be honest, I talk so fast, she could have heard me the wrong way,” Corneau said, adding he had said the sheriff’s office could get involved if the money wasn’t paid. “I’m a grown person, I’m very responsible. I don’t want to undermine Ms. Stockwood, but I really, truly believe from the bottom of my heart that I didn’t identify myself as a sheriff’s officer.”
Corneau said that after the conversation with Stockwood, he never made any other collections calls.
“(Stockwood) told me (the business owner) was using me as a henchman,” Corneau testified. “I felt that she was right.”
On Tuesday, Brazil said she felt Corneau had come across at times as an “evasive and inconsistent witness,” and noted he had spoken so quickly on the stand, she had been forced to ask him a number of times of clarifications because she didn’t understand what he was saying. While she deemed Stockwood truthful, Brazil raised the possibility that she, too, could have misheard Corneau.
“While I believe Mr. Corneau probably represented himself as a sheriff’s officer, the Crown has not proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt,” Brazil said. “I am acquitting Mr. Corneau of the charge.”