Premeditated, expensive crime against law firm

Woman fleeced nearly half a million dollars

JONO GALUSZKA AND RACHEL THOMAS
Last updated 08:36 13/08/2014
Sharyn Joy Ada McFarlane
DAVID UNWIN/Fairfax NZ
FRAUDSTER JAILED: Sharyn Joy Ada McFarlane was sent to prison for three years, four months and two weeks in the Palmerston North District Court yesterday.

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A Palmerston North woman has brought the legal profession into disrepute, after fleecing the Te Awamutu law firm she worked at for 40 years of nearly half a million dollars.

Sharyn Joy Ada McFarlane used an intricate method of laundering money through clients' accounts, falsifying documents and duping co-workers to secure her ill-gotten gains.

In the Palmerston North District Court yesterday, she was sent to prison for three years, four months and two weeks for more than a decade of fraudulent activity against Te Awamutu firm Edmonds Judd.

McFarlane was fresh out of high school when she landed a junior role there in 1973, before being promoted to office accountant in 1995.

It was only after she left, in September last year after being made redundant, that her offending came to light.

Initially, it was found there had been 74 separate transfers totalling $220,000 from seven clients.

But investigators brought in and paid for by the firm found the extent of her offending: 221 transactions dating back to 1998.

It is suspected her offending goes back further, but bank records have not been held long enough to confirm any other fraudulent activity.

She would move money between clients' accounts, create bogus requests for credit refunds, under-receipt payments, and she even altered a document with one of the firm's partners' signatures on it to create and conceal her frauds.

Investigators managed to prove she defrauded her workplace of $469,139.81.

McFarlane blew it all on her alcohol and gambling addictions; along with racking up large bank and credit card bills, she has no assets to repay the firm.

She pleaded guilty to six charges, most of them representative.

Judge David Smith said it would not be right to order McFarlane to pay back the money, as she had no way to get the funds together. The offending was premeditated, lengthy and expensive.

"It is a gross breach of trust. It is one which could have only occurred on the basis of the enormous trust the partners placed in you."

The legal profession as a whole had been harmed by the offending, he said.

"Law firms operate in trust, and they have been shown to fall short."

Edmonds Judd managing partner Simon Brdanovic said the firm was focused on investigating the full extent of the offending. "We will abide by the decision of the court and that's probably the only comment we can make in relation to the sentencing."

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Brdanovic said the firm was committed to "making good any loss anyone has suffered".

"We want to get the investigation complete as soon as possible. We are waiting for forensic accountants to complete that, then we will contact anyone affected by this."

A positive outcome had been the supportive reaction from clients in the community, he said. "It has taken us aback to see the level of support from clients and colleagues."

rachel.thomas@fairfaxmedia.co.nz

- Waikato Times

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