Fraudster in position of trust ripped off varsity

JONO GALUSZKA
Last updated 12:00 22/08/2014
sarah siebert
DAVID UNWIN/FAIRFAX NZ
PAYING IT BACK: Sarah Martha Siebert was sentenced to seven months' home detention and 120 hours' community work on four fraud charges related to a three-year stint of illegal activity against Massey.

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A former Massey University employee has managed to pay back more than half of the $70,000 she siphoned off the tertiary institution, and has been ordered to pay the rest.

In the Palmerston North District Court yesterday, Sarah Martha Siebert was sentenced to seven months' home detention and 120 hours' community work on four fraud charges related to a three-year stint of illegal activity against Massey.

The 44-year-old Palmerston North woman was hired by the university in 2005 as its conference manager, and placed in charge of running conferences at Massey's campuses in Auckland, Wellington and Palmerston North.

From February 2010 to September 2013, she abused her role to make 34 fraudulent transactions, funnelling $70,146 into either her or her husband's credit card accounts.

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

Defence lawyer Peter Coles said Siebert and her husband had gone out of their way to make amends, selling the family home and car, and prioritising all available equity towards paying the money back.

While it was serious offending, she had said sorry and pleaded guilty at the earliest opportunity, he said.

Most of the money had been "frittered away" on shopping, Coles said.

Judge Jennifer Binns took into account early guilty pleas, remorse, a lack of previous criminal history and the hard work Siebert had done to pay back money.

"It is a spectacular fall from grace for you, but it does not have to define your life."

Away from court, Massey University spokesman James Gardiner said the theft had caused difficulty for staff and the university had to contact clients and refund the stolen money.

"While it is pleasing that the majority of money has been repaid, any shortfall will have to be met by the university. We are as confident as we can be that we have fully put things right with our clients."

Procedures had been put in place to try to prevent the same situation happening again, he said.

"But no organisation can be fully protected when people in positions of trust betray that trust."

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- Manawatu Standard

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