Charity fraudster spared jail

ANDREA O'NEIL
Last updated 09:53 18/12/2013

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Porirua

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A fraudster who sank a Porirua youth charity has been sentenced to home detention, which a judge insists is not merely a slap on the wrist.

Toni Lorraine Gardener, 41, of Cannons Creek, was spared prison due to her poor health, which stems from a botched operation some months ago.

She was convicted in Porirua District Court yesterday of defrauding Streets Ahead 237 of $4000 between April 2012 and January this year.

The charity, founded by former Mongrel Mob member Wayne Poutoa in 2006, worked to keep at-risk teenagers out of gangs. It folded after former business manager Gardener's fraud was discovered.

After the sentencing, an upset Mr Poutoa said Gardener had stolen before, and would do so again. She was convicted in April of defrauding the Department of Internal Affairs between 2008 and 2010 but, as she had many aliases, Streets Ahead was unaware of her offending when she was hired. She is also known as Toni Bates, Antoinette Gardener and Toni Spiro.

"These people will never learn. She'll do it again, and I'm sure the court will not be as lenient again," Mr Poutoa said.

Mr Poutoa's wife, Jennifer, wept in the public gallery as Gardener was sentenced to three months' home detention.

Judge Stephen Harrop said home detention was the second most serious sentence after prison.

"It might be thought a sentence of home detention is a light sentence - as Mr Poutoa put it, a slap on the wrist. In my view it certainly isn't," the judge said.

"People don't realise what a restriction it is psychologically and physically."

Gardener's white-collar crime was as serious as a violent offence, Judge Harrop told her. "At least with violent offending there's just one victim, who often doesn't have serious injuries and recovers.

"Clearly this involves a gross breach of trust. You took some of its meagre resources for your own selfish needs.

"All those people who were benefitting from what the trust was doing and who would have in the future, are continued victims of your offending."

Gardener was financially supporting her partner, her son, and her son's pregnant partner when she defrauded Streets Ahead, her lawyer Charlotte Hollingsworth said.

"Times were tough for her, but that's no justification for what she did."

Because of her poor health, Gardener has completed just 47 of 275-hour community work sentence for the DIA fraud. Those hours were converted to an extra six weeks' community detention.

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- The Dominion Post

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