Judge rules bowling club thief 'too old' for jail

Eric Lee
Eric Lee
A Queenstown accountant caught with his hand in the till at the Queenstown Bowling Club has avoided a jail term.

Eric Thomas Lee (74), who stole a total of $12,000 from the club and the regional bowls association to fund a gambling habit, was too old to go to prison, the Queenstown District Court heard yesterday.

From a starting point of 15 months' imprisonment, Judge Mark Callaghan reduced the term to one of eight months after discounts for Lee's early guilty plea, offer to pay reparation, previous clean record and the steps taken to address his addiction.

``Eight months' imprisonment for a 74-year-old man would be wrong, especially for a man who's never been in court before,'' Judge Callaghan said.

He convicted Lee and sentenced him to four months' home detention on three charges: theft by a person in a special relationship, forgery, and theft under $500.

A member and office holder at the Queenstown Bowling Club for 25 years, he was appointed treasurer and tournament secretary in 2010 and held those positions until his arrest on November 29 last year.

He was observed taking cash from the club's till between October 9 and November 27 last year, later admitting to taking a total of $465.

He also misappropriated $12,000 from the Central Otago Bowls Incorporation, and to cover his tracks, forged the signature of an independent reviewer on the club's financial statement for the financial year of 2014-15.

As treasurer and tournament secretary of Central Otago Bowling Inc, the governing body for 16 clubs, Lee transferred a total of $5500 in eight transactions between October 25 and November 8 last year.

Searching Lee's work area, police found a receipt from Sky City Casino with the amount `$5500' written on it. The police summary of facts stated: ``The electronically transferred money . . . has been used by the defendant to fund his gambling habit.''

Lee told police he faced financial hardship after his marriage ended in 2012 and started gambling. He was employed as a part-time accountant for a Queenstown firm until his arrest.

Counsel Louise Denton said Lee had demonstrated ``quantifiable remorse'' by co-operating fully with police, writing letters of apology and making $12,000 available for reparation.

Denton said her client had suffered a ``fall from grace''.

``He recognises he should've asked for more help, but puts that down to stubbornness.''

Judge Callaghan said victim statements from three people all expressed shock at Lee's breach of their trust.

``This was a planned deception of the organisations you were involved in, over a period of four years.

``While the amounts are not high, they are nonetheless significant.''

This was shown by the fact that in the three months since Lee's arrest, the bowling club's income had tripled. On the charge of theft under $500 from Queenstown Bowling Club, he ordered Lee pay $465 reparation, while on the charge of theft by a person in a special relationship, he ordered him to pay reparation of $12,000.

The sentence carries the following special conditions: Lee must undergo assessment for problem gambling and attend any programme, treatment or counselling as directed; undertake budgeting advice; must not engage in employment, voluntary work or training without permission; must not visit a gambling facility; and must not possess or consume alcohol or drugs for the duration of the sentence and for six months' past the end date of the sentence.


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