'Appalling' thefts left no money for mother's funeral

The offending of an Oamaru woman who committed an "appalling'' act of dishonesty left her late mother's estate destitute and unable to pay for her funeral, the Oamaru District Court heard yesterday.

Helen Margaret Emerson (53), of Oamaru, was sentenced by Judge Kevin Phillips to six months' community detention, 12 months' supervision and ordered to pay reparation of $9559.50 after she earlier pleaded guilty to two representative charges of theft by a person in a special relationship.

A police summary of facts said Emerson's offending, which fuelled a gambling addiction, took place between April 2015 and April 2017, when she stole from her mother's cheque account.

When her mother died at Oamaru Hospital on April 6, 2017, the paltry sum of $14.68 was all that remained of the initial sum of more than $83,000.

Judge Phillips said Emerson's mother's estate was pilfered to the point there was "not enough money to bury her'' and that her offending had "destroyed'' her relationship with her family.

He said while Emerson's gambling might have ceased, he rejected the defendant's suggestion she had overcome her addiction.

"She is denying the obvious. She has a major gambling problem.

"For you to use it as if was your own fund, your own money, is appalling.''

The sad tale unfolded when Emerson was made an authorised co-signatory to all three of her mother's bank accounts after the sale of the the latter's house, after she took up residence at an Oamaru aged-care facility in November, 2014.

On April 17, 2015 the sale of the house was completed and $83,004.95 was deposited into one of the bank accounts.

Between April 17, 2015 and April 5, 2017, Emerson made several cash withdrawals from ATMs in Oamaru, Timaru, Christchurch and Dunedin.

Some were on behalf of her mother, but others, totalling $4500, were not authorised.

During the same period Emerson used her mother's bank card to make 32 cash withdrawals from her cheque account, totalling $5059.50, from ATMs at gambling venues in Oamaru and Christchurch.

Several of those were on the same day.

When spoken to by police, Emerson claimed her mother had consented to some cash withdrawals, but not those made at the gambling venues.

She confessed she had a gambling problem at the time, but had since stopped gambling.

Ms Alexander said there was no evidence that Emerson had stolen all of the money from the accounts and argued that a community-based sentence was appropriate and not Judge Phillips' starting point of imprisonment, which he said would have given Emerson, whose only source of income was a benefit, a "short, sharp shock''.

Reparation was ordered at $50 a week.