Dishonest card use a 'gross breach' of family trust

A man caused a family rift after being employed by his sister and brother-in-law to manage their Omakau farm and using the farm credit card to buy more than $76,000 worth of goods for himself over three years, the Alexandra District Court heard yesterday.

''You are never going to be trusted by your family again and I suspect you'll never again be welcome at family gatherings,'' Judge Roy Wade told Murray John Galt, (53), driver, of Mosgiel.

Galt admitted one representative charge of dishonestly using a CRT card between May 2, 2004, and November 17, 2007, with intent to obtain goods and services.

The amount involved was $76,921. In a '' gross breach of trust'', Galt had used the card to buy numerous personal items including petrol, food, diesel and an overseas holiday for his family, Judge Wade said.

The defendant's sister, Judith McNeill, and brother-in-law, Stuart McNeill, told the court they employed Galt at their farm, Lauder Heights, because they trusted him.

''Who better than my brother?'' Mrs McNeill said. His dishonesty had taken an emotional and physical toll on the family, and he had tried to ''ruin them,'' she said. Mr McNeill said they were ''devastated '' by the level of betrayal and the lack of remorse.

Judge Wade said the offence was all the more significant when Galt's actions had affected such close relatives. He believed the offending was ''the tip of the iceberg and there's a lot yet to be uncovered''. The defendant might face proceedings in the civil jurisdiction.

''You are not out of the woods yet.''

Counsel Brian Kilkelly said all the money had been repaid. The defendant was a valued member of staff at his present place of employment and his employer was aware of the court case. He was unlikely to offend again.

The defendant had ''taken on board'' the comments in the victim impact reports, Mr Galt said. There had been a verbal agreement between him and his sister on what the farm credit card could be used for but nothing in writing.

There was civil action under way between the defendant and his mother over $200,000 ''inheritance money'' and whether that was a loan or a gift, Mr Kilkelly said. Judge Wade said Galt could not ''buy himself out of trouble'' by simply repaying the credit card money.

He sentenced him to 300 hours' community work and said the conviction would be one of the greatest penalties faced by Galt as it would affect how potential employers viewed him in the future.

Losing the trust of his family was also a major and ''self-inflected'' penalty, Judge Wade said. Outside court, Sergeant Derek Ealson, of Alexandra, said the police investigation into the matter, which started in 2008, was ''ongoing''. He would like to hear from anyone who could provide information about the movement of stock or goods from Lauder Heights farm between 2004 and 2007.