‘Dark times and dark thoughts’: Small town fraudster jailed after $2m theft

The small-town families were friends, loyal, honest, hard-working types. They trusted each other.

But one Waikato woman betrayed the trust of her employer of 30 years and in 2007 began stealing money.

She appeared in the court of a small Central North Island town for sentencing yesterday after stealing just over $2 million over a 12-year period.

She denies using the money for a lavish lifestyle; rather, she used it to put her children through boarding school and took the family on 25 return trips to Australia and United States for work.

The mother-of-three had earlier pleaded guilty to 12 representative charges of theft by a person in a special relationship; the charges represent 61 different transactions over 12 years.

She has lost a legal battle to keep her name secret but can’t be identified pending any appeal against that decision.

The woman was a part-time accounting assistant and had access to a client’s bank account to pay company bills. That client ran a farm.

On February 21, 2007, she transferred more than $17,000 into her own account.

All of the payments were legitimate bills which were paid, but then she paid herself too.

It would be a year before she’d steal again. Between March 27, 2008, and October 10, 2008, she transferred more than $125,000 on two separate occasions.

The following January, it began again with another $20,000. That year her thefts would total more than $123,000.

The pattern continued year after year after year.

While several transactions were more than $100,000, her biggest annual haul was in 2014 when she snagged $372,856.76 in eight separate transfers.

Her final theft was on March 8, 2018, and she would resign a few months later and enjoy a farewell put on by her boss. Her crimes were eventually discovered by chance the following year.

In court this week, the woman sat still with her head bowed as two of the victims read their impact statements to the court, and as Judge Tini Clark meticulously detailed each of the 61 charges.

The victim whose money she had been stealing said he couldn’t believe it when he found out who was responsible.

“I did not expect that. It absolutely floored me. I just stared at my phone. It was your name.

“You were part of our inner sanctum, one of our most trusted members.

“You were there when we were trying to find our way out of our financial hole. You were there when I agonised over my inability to get our end-of-year stock reconciliation to balance.

“You even went as far as suggesting that one of our employees may have been the reason.”

No matter how hard her employer worked, each year was the same, deficit result.

He recalled once seeing her drive a Mercedes SUV and thought to himself, “not bad for a part-time accounts clerk”.

“Turns out you’re a full-time thief.”

As well as her thefts, her offending was still having a financial impact, with ongoing legal costs of high court civil proceedings after her assets were frozen.

He said he could never forgive her for what she has put him and his family through.

“I have to give you credit, though, for providing me with a lesson in the art of subterfuge. Your performance has been masterful.”

Her employer said he lost precious time with his wife, who was diagnosed with cancer and later died. His focus was on the offending instead of spending time with her.

“This whole affair has caused me an immense amount of stress and anxiety.

“When we were advised that our professional indemnity insurance had been declined, we truly believed our business would fail all because of your selfishness and greed.

“I had some dark times and dark thoughts as a result.”

The woman’s lawyer, Sam Moore, said there was always a degree of self interest in fraud cases and, for his client, it was to help move the family out of the financial state they were in.

When the judge mentioned comments by the accused in a pre-sentence report – where she said the victims “had it easy” with their financial situation – it drew large gasps from those in the packed public gallery.

Moore said it was his client’s first time before the court, she’d entered an early guilty plea and she should be credited for that.

Judge Clark said it wouldn’t be an over-statement to say that the lives of those affected by the woman’s crimes had been “decimated” by it.

She had been regarded as at medium risk of re-offending and at high risk of harm to others.

“Clearly [offender] you considered that you were entitled to do what you did. I’m not saying that you thought it was right … but nonetheless knowing it was wrong, you did it anyway because you had your own motivations which it seems was to live a life you simply could not afford from your legitimate income.”

Jude Clark had struggled to find any sense of genuine remorse. He jailed the woman for four years and five months.

* The woman’s name suppression will lapse on February 15 if her lawyer doesn’t file an appeal with further evidence to prove her extreme hardship.

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