Victorian woman stole cash for pokies given prison sentence
A Victorian woman has been jailed for stealing funds from disappointed travellers who had their holidays cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic and using the cash to fuel her pokies addiction.
The ABC reports that 58-year-old Annette Roberts was sentenced in the County Court of Victoria to two years and eight months behind bars for stealing close to $670,000, much of it from holidaymakers while she was working at Travel and Cruise North East in Wangaratta.
Instead of processing the refunds, the Victorian mother-of-two diverted the funds into her own bank accounts in hundreds of transactions in order to fuel a profound addiction to poker machines.
Roberts’ addiction was so serious that she was gambling during her lunch breaks.
Judge Michael McInerney said Roberts’ conduct was “a gross breach of trust”.
“She’s exploited a small family business and produced for that family business and its owners an extremely serious impact upon them,” the judge said.
He told the court that once the pandemic struck and Roberts began working from home, she gambled online, patronising a website called House of Pokies.
“She won approximately $113,000 by way of various jackpots but also managed, in addition to the money she stole, to plough that back into the operation,” he said.
“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,” Roberts said.
“This got desperate when I realised I was not winning the amounts needed.”
More than $600K stolen in a matter of months
The former agent was “devastated and sorry for the betrayal” she caused by her “stupid” actions.
Her lawyer, Josh Taaffee also read an apology Victorian 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.
Within months of starting work as an agent for Travel and Cruise North East in 2017, Roberts was stealing from the business.
Between April 2018 and September 2020, she skimmed $628,598 by diverting refunds into her own bank accounts in 522 transactions.
She also stole $40,636 by putting the cash on prepaid travel money cards in the names of clients.
Her scheme was unravelled when a client called up the business to enquire about a refund she was expecting.
When confronted by the business, Roberts claimed she had put the cash into the wrong account.
But an investigation found it went into her own account.
The owners of the travel agency, Kay and Bruce Reid, paid back all their customers out of their own pockets, but they were forced to sell two homes, including one left to them by a late family member.
The court heard Roberts had paid back just under $40,000.
Judge McInerney said her offending had stunned her own family.
“They are all incredulous that a habit that they were aware of could have become such an obsession,” he said.
He took aim at poker machines, which he called a “scourge” on society.
He ordered Roberts to spend at least 16 months behind bars before she can apply for parole.
“Ms Roberts I wish you well and I’m sure the positive comments made about you by all people, once you get over the service of this sentence, will prove to be,” he said.