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Fraud charges against mayor dropped

The mayor of a remote Manitoba community has been cleared of fraud, forgery and mail theft charges she says have permanently damaged her reputation.

Geraldine Cockerill was arrested in December 2012 following a lengthy investigation by Leaf Rapids RCMP. Court documents obtained by the Free Press show all 28 alleged offences were dropped by the Crown earlier this month.

"I lost everything being falsely accused of these charges," Cockerill, 58, told the Free Press on Tuesday in a telephone interview from Leaf Rapids, located about 1,000 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg.

Cockerill was elected mayor in 2010 and has been allowed to remain in the position even while her case was before the courts. Under the provincial Municipal Act, elected officials can only be removed from office if convicted of an offence that carries a potential sentence of at least five years in prison.

"They say you're innocent until proven guilty. But I've learned you're guilty until you prove yourself innocent, which is a sad thing," said Cockerill.

All of the charges laid against Cockerill related to her time as Canada Post postmaster in Leaf Rapids in 2009 and early 2010, prior to being elected mayor of the town of about 450 people. She was fired when the allegations surfaced -- which included losing her pension and benefits -- and Cockerill said she also lost a couple of other part-time jobs she was doing to supplement her income.

Investigators began to look at the case in May 2010 when Employment and Income Assistance and Canada Post contacted the Leaf Rapids RCMP detachment about suspicious activities at the post office. The allegations related to the handling of individuals' Income Security cards and cheques by a staff member at the post office. There were allegations some signatures were forged.

Cockerill was then hit with four counts of fraud under $5,000, eight counts of uttering a forged document, eight counts of forgery and eight counts of theft from mail.

"I was falsely accused by a co-worker who was after my job and wanted me fired," Cockerill told the Free Press Tuesday. She was reluctant to discuss specifics because she is now considering civil litigation against Canada Post and the Province of Manitoba.

Cockerill did say the problems began when she cashed a third-party cheque, which she had permission to do from the individual.

"Leaf Rapids is a small northern community with no bank and the post office was the only place to cash cheques without service fees," she said.

Crown attorney David Gray confirmed he directed a stay of proceedings against Cockerill on June 2 during an appearance in Thompson provincial court. He noted his office does have the ability to re-instate charges within one year, but admits that would be unlikely in this scenario.

"The charges were stayed for a fairly technical reason which I won't comment on," Gray said, adding the dated allegations and the sum of money involved played a role in his decision.

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