Woman stole $153k to fuel gambling addiction

Otago Daily Times
 
Woman stole $153k to fuel gambling addiction
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A recidivist thief with a gambling addiction fuelled by a trip to Las Vegas repaid a small Christchurch family business that employed her by stealing more than $150,000 from them.Gail Newburn, 63, is no stranger to taking money from those who employ her. In 2012 she admitted stealing $109,231 from Christchurch’s Crowne Plaza hotel where she worked.

But a family that ran a previously small plumbing and draining business knew about her convictions and took her on anyway because they wanted to give her another chance, which they say was met with "lies and deceit".

Peter Diver Plumbing & Drainage Limited director Jane Diver said there were no words to truly express the damage that Newburn caused to her family and business.

"You have damaged the true essence of who I am ... I supported you after your previous convictions, not only that but I was proud of you for facing your challenges."

Diver said she stood up for Newburn to her own family when they said she wouldn’t change her old ways, which would sometimes cause arguments within Diver’s family.

She said she wouldn’t wish the shame, hurt and embarrassment she felt on anyone when it was revealed that Newburn had in fact been stealing money from the family business, "not even you", Diver said as she turned to Newburn.

"You have taken away my trust in humanity. This is cold-hearted and calculated criminal activity."

Newburn appeared at the Christchurch District Court on Monday for sentencing for two representative charges of theft by a person in a special relationship.

She was wheeled into the dock in a wheelchair, wearing an oxygen tube to accommodate her chronic lung disease.

Newburn was employed by the privately owned and family-run business from 2011 to 2020 to recover debt following the Christchurch earthquakes.

But in 2014 her responsibilities extended to the receipt of cash and cheque payments, banking and performing bank reconciliations.

Newburn was also responsible for handling cash and cheque payments that were received over the counter from customers which were recorded in cash books.

But a review of the bank reconciliations revealed that during the time Newburn was employed, the majority of cash and cheques were not banked and had been misappropriated.

Several cheques were also missing from the bank.

As the missing cash and cheque receipts would have been credited to the customer’s accounts, a reconciliation should have revealed the shortfall in banking but Newburn had "fraudulently manipulated" the accounting system to hide the shortfall, the summary of facts said.

When staff returned to work in April 2020 following the Covid lockdowns, two customer account queries were raised regarding payments missing from the account.

The company had upgraded its accounting system and was able to trace a number of transactions, revealing "questionable" journal entries by Newburn since June 2019, with unaccounted funds of about $10,500.

When Newburn was questioned by her employer, she admitted to taking the money and pleaded with them not to call the police, promising she would pay it back.

Newburn resigned in May 2020 and her family repaid the money and no further action was taken.

However, in September 2020 investigations of old data records revealed the true extent of Newburn’s offending.

Between March 2014 and March 2020, Newburn had stolen a total of $153,596 using 593 cash receipts.

Reports read to the court said that Newburn had a chronic gambling addiction that was amplified after a trip to Las Vegas.

The report stated that Newburn was "burnt out" in 2014, being the full-time carer of her husband who suffered from schizophrenia and who passed away in 2019.

Her gambling addiction provided her with an escape from the financial stress in her life and caring for her husband as she found it "profoundly relaxing".

The court also heard about Newburn’s chronic inflammatory lung disease which requires her to have constant airflow to her lungs from an oxygen tube.

Newburn’s lawyer Joshua Macleod encouraged the judge to impose a sentence of home detention, given Newburn’s medical condition.

Judge Mark Callaghan said the offending was highly premeditated and sophisticated and was worsened by the fact that the family knew about Newburn’s past and chose to trust and support her.

Judge Callaghan said while he finds it impossible to justify anything less of a starting point of three years imprisonment, he would not send Newburn to jail out of compassion for her health.

He sentenced her to 12 months of home detention with post-detention conditions for six months. Reparation was not sought as Newburn did not have the means to pay it.

He ordered Newburn to attend a gambling addiction programme and counselling, not undertake any employment without approval from her probation officer and give access to her electronic devices to her probation officer.

As Newburn was wheeled out of court she repeatedly said "sorry" to the plumbing director and her support people.

 - Emily Moorhouse, Open Justice reporter

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