Fraudster's friends skied for free at Cardrona

Photo: ODT Files
Photo: ODT Files
A Cardrona ski area worker used her office computer to fraudulently obtain ski passes for her friends, a court has heard.

Australian national Michelle Nguyen, 34, was working at Cardrona Alpine Resort’s Wānaka office on August 30 when she offered the passes to three friends who had recently arrived from Australia.

Using her access to the company’s computer system, she found a list of annual ski pass holders who had yet to collect them.

She took photos of her friends, added them to the profiles of three randomly-selected pass holders, and issued her friends with the fraudulent passes.

She repeated the process two days later when a fourth friend arrived from Australia.

Her friends skied on the passes for four days, avoiding the $160 a day cost of paying for them.

Nguyen’s offending was discovered on September 3, when the true holder of one of the passes went to Cardrona to collect it.

Nguyen was charged with unlawfully accessing a computer system, which carries a maximum penalty of seven years’ imprisonment.

At a hearing in the Queenstown District Court on Monday, counsel Bryony Shackell said the defendant’s actions were "foolish and opportunistic", but out of character.

She had no previous convictions, and felt "profound regret" about her offending.

A conviction would jeopardise her ability to enter Canada — her partner was a dual Canada-New Zealand citizen, and his family lived there.

It would also affect her ability to find employment, particularly in administrative roles in which she had experience.

Her friends had repaid the ski area the cost of the passes they had used, which totalled 13 days’ skiing between them.

Nguyen had carried out voluntary work for the Salvation Army and an environmental organisation, and made a $180 donation to the Red Cross.

Prosecutor Dan Andrew said police opposed the application because the offending involved premeditation and a degree of sophistication.

Her travel and immigration status were matters best left for the relevant government authorities to consider, and it was not the courts’ role to hide offending from future employers.

Judge Russell Walker told Nguyen she had greatly underestimated the potential consequences of a "misguided desire to help your friends".

He granted her a discharge without conviction, but noted she had come "very close" to gaining a criminal record.

"It’s really important you don’t act in this way again."

Nguyen’s friends, all Australians in their 30s, had been charged with using a ski pass dishonestly. They were granted discharges without conviction on September 4.