Manager pleads guilty to stealing $800k from Waikato Diocesan School for Girls
She was in a job that paid $125,000 a year, yet Tessa Grant wanted more - almost $800,000 more, which she stole from the top Hamilton school she worked for.
The funds she siphoned out of Waikato Diocesan School for Girls' coffers was spent on the purchase of land on which she wanted to build an equestrian centre, as well as on a horse, international travel for that horse, and a $40,000 diamond ring.
Tessa Fiona Grant, 40, who was employed as commercial manager at the school for 14 months until her resignation in September, pleaded guilty to seven fraud-related charges when she appeared in the Hamilton District Court on Wednesday.
Court documents reveal that, through a series of covert transactions and forged documents, she took $795,000 from the school into her own accounts between December 2014 and August 2015.
She was remanded on bail by Judge Robert Spear for sentencing in March.
Grant, who had previously been granted name suppression, did not have it renewed by her counsel Michael Foley, who appeared on behalf of Auckland lawyer Guyon Foley.
She had been charged with two counts of using a document for pecuniary advantage, two counts of altering a document and three charges of using forged documents.
Five of the charges carry a maximum penalty of 10 years' imprisonment.
Speaking after her court appearance, Grant tearfully said she had entered into a confidentiality agreement with the school and was unwilling to give details about her offending.
Waikato Dio principal Vicky McLennan confirmed the school's lawyers and Grant's legal counsel had entered into an arrangement. She said although Grant's actions had caused a financial loss to the school, there had been no loss of face, and the school's board of trustees - which consists of some of the Waikato's top lawyers, accountants and company heads - had detected and speedily dealt with the fraud.
The first inkling McLennan and the school staff had that Grant had been up to no good came with the discovery of a receipt for a $1492 return flight to Christchurch in April last year that McLennan and her husband had supposedly taken as a gift from the school board. In reality it was Grant and her husband Jason Grant who had taken the trip.
It turned out to be the tip of an iceberg of swindling.
The biggest and possibly most blatant of her crimes related to work that was done by Hawkins Construction, which had been contracted to redevelop the school's food technology block and also do work on the principal's house.
The total cost of the two projects was $600,000. However an examination of the school accounts revealed the total value of invoices purportedly paid to Hawkins came to $1.14 million - almost double the actual cost of the work.
Twelve invoices or payment claims from Hawkins were located in the school records. Of these, only six had been issued by the construction firm, with the rest being forgeries.
Using her authority, Grant had approved the invoices for payment by direct credit and coding against a budget. She then accessed the school's banking system and directed the payment to her personal bank account.
Another deception involved her using a cheque to withdraw $7500 from the school account on the pretence that it was for asbestos removal from the conversion of the principal's house. This was untrue and the cheque was made out to one of Grant's friends.
McLennan confirmed a small amount of asbestos had been found inside the house, in a cupboard.
Full reparation had been paid to the school by Grant on December 18, including $105,523.63 to cover interest, legal and related costs the organisation had incurred.
"The school is grateful for the diligence and vigilance of its staff and boards and thankful that robust financial systems enabled early and accurate detection of the offending," McLennan said in a statement, later adding it was the discovery of the forged flight receipts that had led to the discovery of the rest of Grant's offending.
In July, Grant bought a 13-hectare property in Whatawhata for about $900,000, with the aim of using it as an equestrian centre, complete with indoor arena. That purchase was made in the name of JT Equine Ltd which was a company she had formed earlier that month and of which she was the sole director.
Prior to her employment at the school, Grant was the general manager of Skycity Hamilton. A spokeswoman for the casino said the company had a policy of not speaking to the media about employees or matters that were before the courts and would not be making any comment about Grant.
Grant was also formerly a committee member of the Waikato Equestrian Centre. Judy Williams, who was vice president at the time said she had left about seven years ago, and most of the board membership had changed in that time.
Jason Grant is listed in the electoral roll as a property manager.
* Sole owner of residential properties in Chartwell and Huntington, Hamilton
* Sole director and shareholder of JT Equine NZ Limited
WHAT SHE STOLE:
* $768,950.52 in supposed payments to Hawkins Construction, redirected to her accounts
* $7500, supposedly for asbestos removal from principals house, actually paid to a friend
* $6876.63, supposedly for insurance on a tractor mower and other school equipment, actually for her own insurance
* $5178.16, supposedly a payment to engineering firm Caledonian Design for resource consent for school food technology block redevelopment
* $2000, again a forged invoice to Caledonian Design, supposedly for resource consent for a community relations centre
* $1492 on flights for two to Christchurch, she said was taken by the principal
WHAT SHE BOUGHT:
* $900,000 property in Whatawhata
* $55,850 on jewellery, including a $40,000 platinum diamond ring
* $285,000 horse coach
* $182,500 for truck chassis
* $68,579 on an eventing horse from the UK
* $31,851 on international transport for the horse
* $16,071 on a horse float
* $14,735 on agricultural machinery
* $18,371 on horse gear