Worker's $60k theft almost ruined North Shore family business
An Auckland family business was brought to the brink of ruin after an employee the owners called a "friend" stole more than $60,000 from them.
Paula Nightingale worked for Albany-based EcoPro Cleaning from December 2014 till February 2017. Over that time she stole more than $60,000 by creating fake invoices.
Nightingale, who lives in Whangaparaoa, appeared in the North Shore District Court on October 6 where she was sentenced to nine months home detention.
Anne and Bob Quaid have run EcoPro Cleaning since 2003. Anne's parents started it more than 40 years ago.
They hired Nightingale for accounts and administration and Bob Quaid told the court they called Nightingale a friend and "bent over backwards" for her.
Her offending was uncovered in February 2017 and the Quaids spent days combing through invoices to reveal the full extent.
Judge Claire Ryan said the $60,112.18 was stolen over 44 transactions, including $8000 in one month.
In this time the Albany-based company started struggling, Quaid said.
They had to make one employee redundant and cancel their marketing scheme. He said the past two financial years had been a "write off".
The company's reputation was put in jeopardy and Quaid said if the company had gone into liquidation its roughly 100 contractors would also have been put out of work.
"Her actions almost tipped the business over, we were on a knife edge," Quaid said.
"Our company has shrunk to the size it was five years ago. Our ability to grow has been completely stifled … the reputation is in tatters. It will take us years to get back to where we were before she joined the company.
"Paula was well aware of the stress we were under but this was not enough to make her stop," Quaid told the judge.
"What hurts the most is that she called us friends … she smiled in our faces and laughed with us when she was really laughing at us and lying to our faces."
Nightingale had entered a guilty plea to obtaining possession of a pecuniary advantage in June.
At the sentencing, Judge Ryan said Nightingale's actions had been particularly felt by the small company.
"They make the important point that it's not just them, but over 30 or so teams of cleaning contractors … They thought very much of the people you weren't thinking of," the judge said.
"That's why they ran the company the way they did, that's why it grew, that's why I acknowledge that they are people of hard work and integrity who have lost so much financially and in reputation because of what you did."
She said the offending was a significant breach of trust with significant impacts.
Judge Ryan started the sentence at two and half years in prison but after taking into account a restorative justice attempt, previous good character, an early guilty plea and mental health issues, she sentenced Nightingale to nine months' home detention and nine months of post-sentence conditions.
She ordered Nightingale to repay the couple at $100 per week as well as a one off payment of $1400 which Nightingale had saved.
Nightingale cried as the sentence was read.
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