Theft from firm earns jail term

Last updated 16:31 27/02/2014

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A former account manager at a large office-supplies company has been jailed after stealing nearly $250,000 over eight years.

Chona Saspa, 49, was sentenced in the Auckland District Court today to two years three months in prison after her offending came to light last year and a representative charge of theft was laid.

Judge Anne Kiernan said the penalty would have been more severe had Saspa not started paying back the money she had stolen before sentencing.

Between 2005 and 2013, Saspa was an accounts manager at OfficeMax, responsible for both New Zealand and Australia accounts payable functions.

She worked at the company's Manukau office and had high-level access to the accounting software.

"Her length of service gave her an extensive knowledge of how this accounting system operated," a summary of facts stated.

After an investigation, police found Saspa had used two methods to divert $245,190 to three of her personal accounts and two family members' accounts in Australia.

Sometimes she used old purchase orders from within the management computer system and generated dummy invoices.

On other occasions she changed the bank account number for various suppliers to her own, then processed payments into her account before doctoring the records to cover her tracks.

The offending came to light only after an employee from the accounts department noticed an irregular transaction to a previous client's closed account.

From there, the extent of her theft unravelled.

Saspa was confronted by OfficeMax's general manager and admitted to him, and later to police, that she "had done a stupid thing in her life and needed the money to support her financial needs and struggles".

Judge Kiernan's sentence did not fall within the two-year threshold for consideration of home detention but even if it had, she would have declined it, she said.

The judge said the issues of deterrence and denunciation meant jail was the only option.

She also ordered Saspa to pay another $10,000 in reparation to the company.

OfficeMax NZ managing director Kevin Obern said the penalty was "appropriate" but even with the returned funds they would face a loss of more than $200,000.

"While we are extremely disappointed that our trust has been breached ... We are grateful that none of our customers or suppliers have been adversely affected by the actions of this individual," he said.

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