Country travel agent steals thousands to gamble on pokies
A Victorian woman has pleaded guilty to two counts of obtaining financial advantage by deception in the County Court of Victoria after stealing more than $600,000 in refunds meant to go to clients and gambled it away at the pokies.
News.com.au reports that Annette Roberts was meant to refund $628,598.15 being held by her employer Travel and Cruise North East to clients.
But she instead funnelled the cash into her own bank accounts between April 2018 and September 2020.
She was working at the Wangaratta office at the time she was stealing from the small business.
The majority of the money was taken during the height of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, prosecutor Andrew Sprague told the court.
“The vast majority of it is committed during the period of the pandemic when it would have been apparent the business was in a very difficult financial situation,” he said.
The disgraced travel agent from Benalla also transferred more than $40,636.81 and loaded it onto prepaid travel cards in the names of clients between May 2019 and March 2020.
Desperate travel agent gambled on lunch break
Roberts, who has a gambling addiction, spent the money at the pokies on her lunch break and using websites including House of Pokies when she worked from home as a result of the restrictions.
“I started gambling on an online pokies website. I gambled with the intention of repaying the clients and the account of Travel and Cruise,” Roberts told police after she was arrested in October 2020.
“This got desperate when I realised I was not winning the amounts needed.”
She had repaid more than $22,500 to the owners of the business, the court was told.
The former agent was “devastated and sorry for the betrayal” she caused by her “stupid” actions.
Hew lawyer, Josh Taaffee also read an apology Roberts wrote to her employers for the “hurt and pain” caused to them.
“I’m so devastated and sorry for all the betrayal of trust and financial hardship, anxiety and embarassment that I have caused from my stupid and unlawful actions,” she said.
But business owner Kay Reid told the court they had been deceived and manipulated by their employee during the turmoil of the pandemic.
“The calculated deceit and theft by this individual is extremely difficult for us to digest and cope with going forward,” she said.
The business owner and her husband sold two properties in order to pay back their clients and were worried about “small town rumours” that could have huge impacts,” Ms Reid told the court.
Roberts’ lawyer said she took responsibility for her actions, had no prior criminal history, was remorseful and pleaded guilty to stealing at an early stage.
“Once she’s working from home and an ad for online pokies pops up and that’s the end for her, really,” defence lawyer Josh Taaffee said.
He said her lifelong depression made her more vulnerable to gambling.
During the hearing, Judge Michael McInerney labelled online pokie machines as an “abomination”m and said it was a “scourge” on the community.
“To have people able to use them online is really an abomination if ever I’ve heard of one,” he said.
Roberts was remanded and will be sentenced in September.