Woman's act of blackmail 'out of character' - judge

SASHA BORISSENKO
Last updated 12:43 28/05/2014

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A woman who blackmailed a health professional by asking him to pay her $414,000 for allegedly sexually assaulting her when she was a child has been sentenced to 250 hours community work.

Jeanette Faye Francis, 54, was sentenced in the Nelson District Court yesterday after pleading guilty to a charge of blackmail on April 1.

Judge Tony Zohrab told the court that on February 10 the complainant, a health professional based in Christchurch, received an email from Francis that had an invoice attached demanding $414,000 including GST. The invoice pointed to a number of historical sexual assaults that allegedly occurred against Francis as a child. The email demanded the complainant respond via email within 14 days and if payment was not made within 30 days then Francis would send the invoice to debt collectors.

Francis telephoned the complainant on February 24 at his work. The complainant refused to speak to Francis and hung up.

The complainant denied any wrongdoing to Francis whatsoever.

Defence counsel Michael Vesty, on behalf of John Sandston, said Francis had suffered significant health issues and had trouble controlling her emotions as a result. In an outburst, she sent the email but the act was not pre-meditated because she did not know it was illegal to do so, he said. She never really expected anything to come from the threat but she just wanted the health professional to engage with her.

Given the high sum of money, it was preposterous to expect compliance with the "quite hollow" blackmail.

Francis was upset that she had tarnished her reputation as up until that point she had an unblemished character. As a mother, wife, grandmother and community member she was upset that she was now characterised as a criminal. Francis had obvious unresolved issues and had sought counselling.

She entered a guilty plea at the earliest opportunity.

Judge Zohrab accepted Francis had gone to police many years ago over an alleged sexual assault and police said they could not help her. It seemed the alleged trauma had festered away over time. Combined with later health issues, the trauma caused rapid anxiety and distress that led her to engage in conduct that was out of character. He accepted her remorse was genuine.

Francis was sentenced to 250 hours of community work, with 12 months supervision. She was also sentenced to complete an alcohol and drug assessment and counselling.

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- The Nelson Mail

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