Judge slams church pressures
A Palmerston North judge has criticised the cultural pressures put on Pacific Islanders to give money to churches in New Zealand, after a woman stole more than $27,000 from her workplace to keep up payments to her church.
Ana Fangaiuiha, 37, worked for Countdown in Palmerston North for five years, and was promoted to be a checkout supervisor in January this year. That gave her the power to cash refunds without the permission of others.
She used that power for her own good by falsely refunding 292 items - including beer, groceries and vouchers - and keeping the returned money for herself.
From January to June, she managed to swindle $25,510 in cash and $2091 in vouchers.
When her theft was discovered, she said she was under financial stress because she was sending money to her mother in Tonga and making donations to her local church.
At her sentencing in the Palmerston North District Court yesterday, defence lawyer Mark Alderdice said Fangaiuiha was subjected to cultural pressures. Expectations on her to give to her church were high, as she was one of the higher earners among the congregation.
Her husband had been a lay priest at the church while her mother stayed at home to look after the children. But when Fangaiuiha's mother was deported back to Tonga in January, her husband - the earner of a smaller income than hers while employed by the church - left his job to take care of the children.
Mr Alderdice said that left her as the only income earner, but the family still felt pressure to give payments to the church.
"On top of that was the added pressure of money going back to Tonga to support her mother, and on top of that was the normal payment of bills on a solo income."
Since her theft was discovered, she had lost her job and was now on a Working for Families benefit, he said.
The church, which was not identified in court, had agreed to repay $12,000 they knew Fangaiuiha had given, which would go straight to Countdown, he said.
Judge Les Atkins said it was wrong for the church to put so much pressure on Fangaiuiha.
"It seems the church needs to take responsibility."
But she also should have been more honest, he said. "If she could not afford to pay, she should have said no."
Judge Atkins said she had been "ripping off" the public of New Zealand through her offending, and now the public would be paying her reparation through the benefit it gave.
He sentenced her to nine months' home detention and to repay all the stolen money to Countdown.