Employee stole more than $140k from Taupō car dealership
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"I have never met anyone so evil."
They are the words of Taupō car dealership owner Richard Blakeney-William Snr outside the Rotorua District Court today after one of his trusted employees, Stephanie Ann Elmiger, was today found guilty of 225 charges relating to stealing more than $140,000 from his business over three years.
Elmiger's offending was described by a judge as bold and blatant - and she has been warned she could go to jail.
Elmiger pleaded not guilty to 249 charges of theft by a person in a special relationship. She was found guilty of 225 charges following a judge-alone hearing between August 6 and 24 before Judge Tony Snell. The other charges were dismissed.
Judge Snell formally released his decision today.
Elmiger was employed by Central Motor Group, a Ford and Mazda dealership, in 2013 as a senior administrator/accounts clerk and moved up the ranks to general manager.
She was also employed to help with the financial accounting and oversight of Blakeney-William Snr's daughter's beauty/spa business, Diamond Laser Spa.
The charges she faced related to monetary transfers from accounts she had control of, credit card transactions, payroll payment charges and a discrete motor vehicle related charge.
The Crown alleged she paid herself a series of payments and bonuses that were not authorised or she was entitled to, used a company credit card issued to her and a company credit card issued to another employee to make personal purchases that were not authorised or part of the general business or authorised business of the company, made unauthorised payroll payments to herself and gave a Ford Courier utility vehicle to a third party without accounting for it to the company.
It was Elmiger's defence that all the monetary transfers and bonuses were authorised by the company and all credit card allegations were either not done by Elmiger or were for legitimate company business or were authorised.
The judge's lengthy decision outlines the expenses Elmiger used company funds for. These include TAB purchases, personal shopping, groceries, her personal Sky bills, her personal rates, a deposit for a car for her daughter, beauty products for Elmiger's daughter's business and flights for her daughter and her daughter's boyfriend.
The decision also outlines several unexplained bonuses that Elmiger paid to herself for varying amounts from $524 to $2000.
In his decision, Judge Snell said he found Elmiger started offending shortly after starting her job.
"The offending occurred quite deliberately and was increasingly bold and blatant as her sense of entitlement grew."
He said the offending was able to be hidden because of the increasingly senior employment positions that she occupied, the level of trust she was afforded and different methods of concealment.
"Viewed overall, the offending has been a sustained and substantial course of action by Ms Elmiger throughout her employment."
Crown prosecutor Andy Hill asked Judge Snell today whether Elmiger would be remanded in custody.
He said it would be his submission the starting point at sentencing for her offending would be three to three-and-a-half years.
Hill said she would not be entitled to a discount for pleas as she pleaded not guilty and her only mitigating factor was that she intended to pay back what she stole in full.
Elmiger's lawyer, Jonathan Temm, said Elmiger would sell her property, the funds of which would mean the entire amount would be paid back immediately.
Judge Snell said he would grant Elmiger continued bail as she had been a "model prisoner" on bail.
Hill questioned the judge, saying he wanted to look at the bail conditions as there had been a recent incident where the victim's home had been graffitied and other incidences resulting in family members getting security to protect themselves.
Judge Snell said that had no reflection on Elmiger as it could have been done by any of her supporters without her knowledge.
However, Judge Snell said despite asking for reports about whether Elmiger would be eligible for home detention, that should be no indication of what his sentencing would be.
She was remanded on bail, with conditions including that she not engage in any social media commentary relating to the case and not associate with the victims, until February 1.
Outside the court, Blakeney-William Senior said he had to go back to work at the age of 70 because her offending nearly ruined his company.
"I trusted her implicitly ... I have been in business in Taupo for 42 years. We are a respected family and she nearly destroyed our company ... It's been an horrendous three years."
His daughter, Olivia, who runs the spa business which was also a victim of Elmiger's offending, told the Rotorua Daily Post outside court the impact she had on the company was "massive".
"I had to pull my business out from the ground ... the whole family has pulled together, we were all going down because of it."