Southland fraudster caught out

COLLETTE DEVLIN
Last updated 05:00 20/05/2014

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A Southland accountant who forged his bosses' signatures to pay himself almost $20,000 worked for Venture Southland.

William (Bill) Bates escaped detection for more than a year after the fraud, which occurred on November 7, 2011.

Venture did not notice the missing ratepayer money until it undertook an audit to determine what had caused financial irregularities.

Venture Southland chief executive Paul Casson said it had not been picked up earlier because fraud was difficult to identify.

"It was a surprise to us and disappointing a person of trust in a key role could do this. He let himself and the organisation down."

An annual report from Audit New Zealand stated Venture's financial statements complied with accepted accounting practice but auditors do not examine every transaction, he said.

Bates, who had worked at the organisation for eight years, did not have all the qualifications required, he said.

Venture made changes to ensure it did not happen again and had now employed a fully qualified accountant. An external report had suggested changes and more stringent monthly reporting.

The treatment of income and a change in format had now been introduced. "We believe we now have appropriate checks and balances in place to minimise risk," Casson said.

Following legal proceedings Venture recovered the $19,486.25 in full and was awarded investigation costs of $14,666.10.

Casson said the costs would be recognised as revenue and go back into the pool.

Bates pleaded guilty to dishonestly using a document, namely a cheque, to obtain pecuniary advantage when he appeared before Judge Christina Cook in the Invercargill District Court in December

At the time police prosecutor Sergeant Rob Mills said the unauthorised payment was not discovered until an audit in early 2013 because the expense had been labelled as "company salary".

At his sentencing in February Bates said he had fallen into financial strife.

He was sentenced to three months' community detention, 120 hours' community work, ordered to pay a lump sum reparation of $19,487 to his former employer and under arrangement, to pay $200 a fortnight for the company's auditing costs of $14,666 that uncovered his fraud.

Judge Saunders said the man had been in a position of trust and had not used his adult skills to seek help and professional advice when he got into financial strife. 

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- The Southland Times

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