A stolen farmer's hay cheque to his neighbour surfaced when it ended up in a sickness beneficiary's bank with the amount doctored by more than $12,000.
The story of what happened to the cheque stolen from a rural letterbox earlier this year was revealed in the New Plymouth District Court.
The theft occurred about the same time that Taranaki police issued a warning to farmers of a spate of cheques being stolen from rural letterboxes.
Last week, Max Lewis Awhitu, 50, a sickness beneficiary, and his niece, Jasmine Danielle Griffiths, 24, a solo mother, were sentenced for their roles in the fraud, admitting a charge of using a document for pecuniary advantage.
Neither would tell police how they came to have possession of the cheque, which was stolen from the farmer's rural letterbox on February 12 before the rural delivery contractor arrived to pick it up.
By the time the niece banked the cheque into Awhitu's account on February 14 at the Westpac Bank in New Plymouth, the original name had been altered to his and the amount had increased from $269.10 to $12,690.
The two were caught after Griffiths was seen on CCTV footage banking the cheque into her uncle's account.
Awhitu was also seen on CCTV footage withdrawing $12,000 from the same account.
The police summary says several cheques and mail were "uplifted by persons unknown" before the rural delivery contractor reached the mail box. Their lawyer, Kylie Pascoe, told Judge Patrick Treston on Friday that neither would say who altered the cheque. Reparation for the full amount had already been paid.
Griffiths, due to give birth in a week, had little involvement and was merely banking the cheque for her uncle, Ms Pascoe said.
Awhitu had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and Griffiths often did chores for him. Griffiths did not benefit from the money, however, Ms Pascoe said it was accepted that Awhitu benefited substantially.
Judge Treston sentenced Griffiths to 50 hours' community work. Awhitu, who had convictions for drugs and driving offences but not dishonesty, acknowledged he was a regular cannabis user, the judge said.
Awhitu was sentenced to four months' community detention with a curfew from 7pm to 7am, and 250 hours' community work.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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