Worker stole thousands

BELINDA FEEK
Last updated 05:00 08/08/2014
Jane Hamilton
LIGHT FINGERED: Former bar manager Jane Hamilton leaves the Hamilton District Court.
Bernard Gittings
KELLY HODDEL/ Fairfax NZ
RIPPED OFF: Bernard Gittings, left, and Kevin O’Brien, co-owners of The Riv Bar and Bistro in Hamilton East. 

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A Hamilton bar owner finds it hard to trust anyone after his manager fleeced his businesses of more than $90,000 over three years.

Bernard Gittings, co-owner of The Riv Bar and Bistro and former owner of the Still Working Bar, told the Waikato Times that not only had he suffered financially, but also emotionally over the actions of his former employee, Jane Bridget Hamilton.

Hamilton, 37, was sentenced this week in the Hamilton District Court to nine months of home detention and 200 hours of community work after earlier admitting two charges of theft by a person in a special relationship and two charges of making false entries with intent to obtain by deception.

Hamilton, who is eight months' pregnant, was initially employed as a bar worker in 2008 but was promoted to manager of both bars two years later.

Her role put her in charge of banking gaming machine proceeds.

However, she falsified gaming machine float records to show lesser takings, stealing between $200 and $1000 at a time.

Reading his victim impact statement to the court, Gittings said he had given Hamilton the extra responsibility because he trusted her and it meant he could have weekends off and go on leave.

It was not until he sold the Still Working Bar 18 months ago that he realised he was still losing money at an exorbitant rate.

Gittings told Judge John Macdonald that he even sat down with Hamilton several times to try to work out how he had been losing so much money.

The situation got so dire he had to use his personal credit card to pay bills.

He eventually figured out it was Hamilton after realising the gaming banking did not add up.

Gittings paid $1356 to install surveillance cameras, which paid off after one week when she was recorded stealing $1000 on November 16 last year.

It was eventually revealed she had stolen $91,679 between January 2010 and November 2013 on 166 occasions.

"I have not replaced her and simply prefer to do it myself . . . the incident came very close to causing the loss of my business . . .

"I still think it will take some time to recover financially and emotionally from this incident," Gittings said.

Richard Annandale, prosecutor for the Department of Internal Affairs, said a feature that loomed large was the degree of trust placed in Hamilton.

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"Hamilton's actions, she being acutely aware of the systems, exploited the system relatively overtly by siphoning off money in small, medium and large quantities regularly."

Hamilton's lawyer, Eilidh Hook, said her client was very remorseful for her actions, had already paid $10,000 reparation to the court and was prepared to pay the remainder with a cleaning job that paid $240 per week.

Hamilton, who has a young child with her partner, initially had no intention of stealing the money.

It was simply "in front of her and it became a habit that she could not turn down", Hook said.

She asked for a sentence of community detention and community work so Hamilton could continue her part-time cleaning. But the judge declined to do that, given the gravity of the offending.

He also said he felt uneasy about having Hamilton left repaying such a large amount of money over such a long period of time, so ordered that she repay a total of $30,000 to Gittings.

Given the fact she is pregnant and a first offender, Macdonald said a home detention sentence was appropriate.

Outside court, Gittings said he was surprised Hamilton was not ordered to pay the total amount of reparation.

He now had a new electronic banking system in place to prevent the same thing happening again.

Not only was he shocked at Hamilton's actions, but so were Department of Internal Affairs staff who used to hold her in high regard, he said.

When asked to offer advice to other business owners, Gittings replied: "You have to double check everything".

Bar co-owner Kevin O'Brien said he still struggled to comprehend the amount of money Hamilton had stolen and how hard his staff would have to work to get it back.

"We have learnt a very expensive lesson," O'Brien said.

FRAUD A 'SLAP IN THE FACE'

Waikato Chamber of Commerce chief executive Sandra Perry said bar owner Bernard Gittings has received a "double slap in the face".

Perry said not only was Gittings ripped off by employee Jane Hamilton but also he's only going to recoup one-third of the $90,000 stolen from his business.

"First of all the businessperson suffers and then the person doesn't get fair retribution. That just seems like a double slap in the face for him. Doesn't it look like crime pays?"

Perry said she had been shocked by the amount of fraud hitting Waikato businesses in recent times. Even more disturbing was the fact that most was committed by women, she said.

"It's absolutely horrific for the business community because we are all working towards having the most robust financial accounting systems possible, so how does this keep happening?"

She didn't blame Gittings for losing trust, but hoped his new electronic system would be more foolproof.

Bernard Lamusse, a partner in Hamilton's BDO accounting firm, said he was surprised at the offending as he thought the Department of Internal Affairs had strict measures to prevent gaming machine fraud.

He said business owners had to trust their staff and if they suspected anything they should seek help from an external accountant.

"This is really one of those key things: Do you trust your staff or do you not. You have to be able to trust them but they shouldn't be blind."

Department of Internal Affairs acting gambling compliance director, Raj Krishnan, said the department monitored all gaming machine operations in pubs and clubs.

Hamilton told investigators she had spent the money on her lifestyle and had nothing to show for it.

- Waikato Times

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