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Akata Louise Kuresa (31) was an employee of Bill Richardson Transport World and secretary of the Invercargill Young Professionals group when she stole $12,611.59 from the two groups to pay for photo shoots, flights, clothes and other personal expenses.
In explaining her actions, she said she was not good at maths and did not know how to bookkeep.
She appeared in the Invercargill District Court yesterday and admitted five counts of theft by a person in a special relationship and two charges of altering a document with intent to defraud.
Judge John Brandts-Giesen sentenced her to six months’ community detention, 12 months’ intense supervision and 200 hours’ community work.
He also ordered her to pay $12,611.59 in reparation to the victims — $4640 to the Invercargill Young Professionals and $7971.59 to the owners of Transport World.
Kuresa was a contestant in this year’s series of The Bachelor New Zealand, which featured Moses Mackay from operatic trio Sol3 Mio looking for love.
Judge Brandts-Giesen discontinued Kuresa’s name suppression as he believed the extreme hardship criteria was not met.
Kuresa was seen as a leader by the young professionals group and she was a person trusted by her employer, he said.
"You gave the impression of a good person and you behaved badly.'
Over a long period of time, Kuresa had a smile on her face and all the confidence in the world but was stealing from the group and also from Transport World, the judge said.
Kuresa chose to be part of a reality show at the same time she was committing the theft.
She created a facade and needed the money to maintain it, he said.
While he sympathised with her and asked media to not sensationalise the matter, he believed she had to be held accountable for the offending.
Her employer, Bill Richardson Transport World director Jocelyn O’Donnell, read a victim impact statement to the court and said Kuresa’s actions showed she did not have remorse for her actions.
She said Kuresa manipulated the truth and lied to many in the community about why her employment was terminated.
Mrs O’Donnell and her team were devastated to learn of the fraud — they had always supported Kuresa, fought for her and had trust in her.
"We are still kicking ourselves for giving you the benefit of the doubt.
"You were in a position of trust and used this to your full advantage.'
She said one of the things that struck her most was the type of items Kuresa used the money on, which looked self-indulgent.
"Your theft was for your own social life and personal gain.'
That assessment of the spending was echoed by the judge.
Despite the difficulty of giving a statement in court, Mrs O’Donnell said she believed it was necessary to warn others, as Kuresa was involved in many community groups.
Counsel Olivia Taylor told the court her client was extremely regretful and had genuine remorse for the hurt she caused.
She asked the judge to consider a community detention sentence as any other outcome could affect Kuresa’s current employment, which she needed to keep as she wanted to be able to pay reparation to the victims.
The summary of facts stated that during her employment at Bill Richardson Transport World, Kuresa used a company card to pay for tickets to events, a flight, to purchase personal items, for a personal photo shoot and also to pay for bills that were in the name of the organisation she was treasurer of.
She also transferred money from the Invercargill Young Professionals’ account to her own personal account.
The transactions were then coded to look like legitimate work spending.