Former Massey staffer admits fraud

Last updated 14:03 27/05/2014

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A former Massey University employee has admitted siphoning off thousands of dollars from the tertiary institution, using her position as a conference manager to place false refunds into her and her husband's credit card accounts.

In the Palmerston North District Court this morning, Sarah Martha Siebert pleaded guilty to four fraud charges linked to her swindling her former employer of more than $70,000.

According to a police summary of facts, the 44-year-old Palmerston North woman was hired by the university in 2005. 

She was its conference manager, in charge of running all conferences across Massey's campuses in Auckland, Wellington and Palmerston North.

Anyone going to a conference at a Massey campus was entitled to a refund if the conference was cancelled. All refunds had to be done manually, and Siebert was able to do so.

From February 2010 to September 2013, she made 34 fraudulent conference refunds to the tune of $70,146.85.

The money was put into either her or her husband's credit card accounts.

Her criminal behaviour was only discovered when a fellow Massey employee found an invoice in December, which was made out for $10,000 to a company the employee did not recognise.

It turned out the money would have been going to an account in Siebert's name.

Siebert resigned soon after.

Since her resignation, the university has been trying to find the documents relating to the frauds to establish the extent of her offending, but she has made no comment.

Defence lawyer Peter Coles said Siebert had started going to counselling, and had already paid back more than $38,000. 

She would also be able to take the total amount outstanding down to about $20,000 in the near future, he said.

Coles said there Siebert was willing to undertake restorative justice with people at Massey University, possibly her former colleagues.

Judge Gregory Ross convicted Siebert and remanded her on bail until July for sentencing.

Massey University spokesman James Gardiner said staff who worked with Siebert had been offered support.

While the university was confident with its financial systems, there would always be risks when people were in positions of trust, he said.

"Massey University has no tolerance for fraud, will investigate all allegations and refer any evidence of offending to the police."

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