Theft from charity 'an abuse of trust'

A former Schizophrenia Fellowship Otago employee has been sentenced to five months' home detention for stealing more than $20,000 from the organisation.

Jacqueline Elizabeth McKenzie (45) used a company credit card to buy $21,024 worth of personal items while working as branch manager of the charity organisation between July 2011 and November 2013.

A large group of the organisation's staff was on hand as she appeared before Judge Kevin Phillips for sentencing at the Dunedin District Court this morning.

McKenzie had been issued an ultimatum by Judge Phillips last month to pay the money back by today or face jail time.

McKenzie, now of Christchurch, fronted up with the money, which would be paid to the Department of Corrections, this morning.

Judge Phillips said stealing while in a management position from an organisation funded mainly by donations was "in my view, at the higher end of an abuse of trust''.

She had taken some time to accept responsibility for the theft, having initially disputed the amount of money in question, the judge said.

"Your attitude to this matter has been appalling.

"That you have continued to cover up, argue and deny the obvious is a matter I must take into account.''

McKenzie used the money to pay for personal expenses such as travel costs and rubbish skip hire, and to purchase products for a business she was operating on the side, Judge Phillips said.

A disputed facts hearing over the amount of money stolen had been scheduled for August, but that never took place as McKenzie eventually agreed to the amount.

She had pleaded guilty to one charge of theft by a person in a special relation on June 25.

McKenzie had misled staff about her entitlements, threatened to discipline them for questioning her decision­-making and did not keep appropriate records, the court heard.

In a "somewhat peculiar'' move, she had issued an affidavit outlining her remorse, Judge Phillips said.

"I do not believe that remorse to be genuine.''

The sentence of home detention would ''not be easy for a woman of your arrogance'', he said.

Public defender Andrew More said McKenzie was remorseful and sought a sentence of community detention and community work.

McKenzie could then give back to the community, he said.

"She is remorseful. It's taken some time for us to get to this position, but we are there now.

"A guilty plea has been entered and she has taken full responsibility.''

A former chairman of the organisation, Richard Linscott, had said at the time the ultimatum was issued he was relieved McKenzie had finally acknowledged what had happened.

''For the reputation of the organisation, it's important for us to have done this out in the open, particularly given the importance of the relationship with our funders.

''We want this not to happen to other organisations. The funds are also important but the aim, in particular, was to have some conclusion around what's transpired.''

Judge Phillips had told McKenzie home detention was the likely punishment if the money was paid back on time.

Outside the court, when asked whether McKenzie should be sent to prison Mr Linscott replied, ''You never get satisfaction out of those sorts of things''.

He did not want to discuss how the fraud was perpetrated.

Mr Linscott said travel and holiday expenses McKenzie had incurred were local and not considered extravagant.

''There was a fair amount of management of what was happening to keep it concealed.''

He praised the work of the charity's auditors for uncovering the theft, and of staff for rallying in the absence of a senior member of management.

 

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