No jail time for former City of Surrey planner

Akolo Akonyu - Leader file photo
Akolo Akonyu
— image credit: Leader file photo

A former City of Surrey planner has been sentenced to house arrest instead of jail, against the wishes of both the Crown prosecutor and his own attorney.

Both Crown and defence lawyers had recommended prison time for former longtime city planner Akonyu Akolo, ranging from three to 15 months for trying to solicit money from a developer.

On Friday afternoon in B.C. Provincial Court in Surrey, Akolo was given a 15-month conditional sentence to be served in the community. The first nine months he is under house arrest – only allowed to leave his home for things such as medical appointments – while the last six months he will have an 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew. He must also complete 50 hours of community service.

Crown prosecutor Kevin Marks had asked the court to sentence Akolo to 15 months in prison.

Defence lawyer Jennifer Currie suggested three to four months of jail time, arguing that while a lengthier sentence of nine to 12 months of community service was an option, the defendant needed to work and provide for his family and a job was awaiting him in Africa.

In delivering his sentence Friday, Judge Michael Hicks said a short jail term would not serve as enough of a deterrence.

Such crimes, Hicks said, are "difficult to detect… and must be denounced in the strongest terms."

Akolo, who oversaw development plans for South Surrey, pleaded guilty to breach of trust by a public officer last September.

He was fired from his City of Surrey job in 2010 and criminally charged the following year after a developer reported his conduct to the city and police.

The court heard Akolo, now 48, offered to take $30,000 for what he called "professional consulting services" from the developer, in exchange for not cashing two cheques worth $65,000 in fees to the city.

Akolo claimed he had forgotten about the cheques after placing them in a drawer and travelling to Uganda to tend to his dying sister. He said he didn't deposit them later, after the development was approved, because he feared for his job if his mistake was noticed.

Judge Hicks called Akolo's actions an "exercise of remarkably poor judgment" in an otherwise clear history. He has no prior criminal record.

Akolo had worked for the city for 17 years. He originally faced five charges – bribing an agent, corrupt municipal official, breach of trust by a public officer, giving false account to deceive principal, and fraudulent concealment.

The City of Surrey also has a civil lawsuit against Akolo over missing funds.

In a suit filed in April 2010, the city claimed unnamed developers acted in conspiracy with Akolo to bilk the city out of various development fees. The city also accused Akolo of using the funds he took to help purchase his home in North Delta. Those allegations have yet to be proven in court.

- by Kevin Diakiw and Sheila Reynolds

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