School's cash went on sex and high living

Last updated 05:00 16/11/2011
don std
PHIL REID/Fairfax NZ
DAVID DON: Former St Patrick's College executive officer.

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He spent nearly $20,000 on prostitutes and bought a deluxe-sized waterbed to share with his wife – but the Wellington man who ripped off a Catholic college says he'll pay it all back.

As the executive officer at St Patrick's College in Wellington, David Neil Don had hundreds of thousands of dollars at his fingertips. The school trusted him with access to its online banking system, where his job was to pay bills, organise financial statements, maintain the bank accounts and reimburse staff if they made purchases.

But not long after he began working at the state-integrated school in 2006, Don, 44, started to abuse that trust by laundering sums of cash which, after he confessed to a Dominion Post reporter this year, were found to total $126,728.

From 2008 to 2009 he spent an average of $400 a week on prostitutes at a "gentlemen's club" in Wellington and a massage parlour in Lower Hutt. Receipts show 49 payments totalling $19,820, which he paid online using the school accounts, listing them as "Corporate Wellington".

The details of Don's spending were revealed yesterday in Wellington District Court, where he pleaded guilty to nine charges of illegally accessing a computer and money laundering.

When Don answered the door of his suburban home in Vogeltown after the hearing, he cut a casual figure in a shirt and shorts. Asked if he was going to try to get a job and repay the money he owed, he said: "That is a given", before refusing to comment further.

He is believed to have already paid back about $13,000 in pay due to him.

School board of trustees chairman Chris McCarthy said he did not wish to comment for fear of jeopardising the sentencing, which will take place in the new year. Asked how he thought the incident had affected the school and its image, he said victim impact statements were being prepared.

"We've all been through a difficult year, and we've had a lot of support from a lot of good people. We are exceptionally grateful to the college community."

Bon Ton escort agency owner Jennifer Souness said yesterday that $400 would pay for about an hour of sex with one of its "courtesans". Don would not have been considered as being among the big spenders, who easily spent $2500 a night.

"He wouldn't have been spending much time at Bon Ton, I doubt, because that would only get him an hour a week. Still if you're going to steal it, you might as well have a good time."

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An escort agency would become concerned about how sex was being paid for only if the client bragged to a prostitute, she said. Bon Ton had once barred a young man who was spending his trust fund on prostitutes.

Don was asked about his offending at a disciplinary hearing at the school and apologised. He said he spent the money on "prostitutes and daily living", but gave no explanation for his offending.

In court yesterday, Judge Chris Tuohy said he needed a complete report on reparation as it was not easy to see how the money had been distributed and whether the total needed to be amended.

Don's lawyer, Keith Jefferies, said Don intended to pay the money back in full and had been trying to refinance his home.

The judge had originally indicated Don would get a prison sentence of about two years and two months but said yesterday that, if reparation was paid, a term of home detention was a possibility.

BIG SPENDER

It was a complicated system, but simple enough for David Don.

Taking advantage of the knowledge that staff at St Pat's could be reimbursed for expenses, he forged payment reimbursement schedules, authorising payment to himself and transferring money from the school accounts.

He disguised payments to look as if they were legitimate – such as forging $90,271 in payment to Leading Edge Advance Technologies, a company that did work with the school. Some of the money was put into the bank accounts of a family member and a friend.

Using this method, he plucked money from the school accounts to pay for everything from prostitutes to a king-sized waterbed, his mortgage and hotel rooms.

He also spent $1107 on personalised sweatshirts for a Brooklyn football team and stayed the night at the Brentwood Hotel under the school's name, ticking up a room service bill of $182.50.

While he was at it, he made 22 lump-sum payments worth $34,227 on his mortgage for a house owned jointly with wife Karen.

- The Dominion Post

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