Pensioner feels sting of trusted worker's thefts

HAMISH RUTHERFORD
Last updated 05:00 29/10/2011
Alola Frederickson
ROSS GIBLIN/Fairfax NZ

RIPPED OFF: Alola Frederickson lost half of her life savings - $600 - to Susan Hagai's persistent thefts from the Hibernian Credit Union.

Susan Terri Hagai
SOCIETY FRAUD: Susan Terri Hagai has been jailed for stealing more than $1.2 from the Hibernian Catholic Society.

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Susan Hagai was stealing $600 a day for almost seven years.

In total, she fleeced $1.2 million from the Hibernian Credit Union. But for Alola Frederickson, a Lower Hutt widow who lives on a pension, her loss was devastating. The amount, $600, was half of her life savings.

"It took years to build up that money," Mrs Frederickson told Wellington District Court yesterday. She can no longer afford the cataract operation she needs. Drinking a coffee in a cafe is also out of the question.

"At 73, I cannot go out to work, and feel very vulnerable should illness or large expense occur."

Hagai, 45, of Titahi Bay, was jailed for four years two months, for what Judge Susan Thomas called "sustained, premeditated, considerable offending".

More than 30 victim impact statements were provided to the court from Hibernian Credit Union members who face losing more than half of their deposits.

Some said the money represented their only savings or funeral funds. One couple said their Hibernian account was provided by grandparents to help give medical support to a disabled child.

"You must have known you were stealing from individuals, many of whom were vulnerable people themselves," Judge Thomas said.

The accounts administrator at Hibernian from 1994 until December 2010 was last month convicted on a representative charge of stealing $1,242,750.

However Hagai told police she may have taken around $1.5m since the offending began in 2004, Crown lawyer Geraldine Kelly told the court yesterday.

After being given the authorisation to sign cheques, Hagai had begun diverting money into accounts she or family members controlled, typically taking about $8000 at a time, twice a month.

The fraud went undetected for years, even after she was made redundant in December.

She later got a part-time job at Wellington bar The Four Kings where she also diverted thousands into family members' accounts.

The theft was detected this year during an audit, prompting a Serious Fraud Office investigation.

Hagai's lawyer, Christopher Stevenson, said the money was spent on her children, supporting the family's lifestyle and gambling.

Mr Stevenson read the court a letter from Hagai to her victims, expressing remorse for taking funds.

Hagai had acquired no substantial assets from the fraud, so there was no chance of repayment, although once contacted by police, she was immediately co-operative.

Hibernian president Mike McBride said most members of the society, set up in 1869 to provide social assistance for Catholics, were not wealthy – so the losses had been financially devastating for some.

"But for everyone, it is the fundamental betrayal of trust over such an extended period of time that hurts the most," Mr McBride said. "Susan dealt personally with many of our members, and many now feel personally betrayed."

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- The Dominion Post

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