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High-life fraud dodges jail

BELINDA FEEK
Last updated 05:00 02/07/2013
 Raewyn Thompson
Fairfax NZ

FINANCE CONTROLLER: Hamilton woman Raewyn Thompson avoided jail after being convicted of stealing nearly $100,000 from her employer to indulge her lavish lifestyle.

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Raewyn Thompson had it all - an award-winning holiday house in the Coromandel, luxury cars, art and a Hamilton home so plush it featured in a newspaper spread and fine homes tour.

But it was all paid for with her bosses' money and yesterday her well-heeled lifestyle came crashing down as she was sentenced for fleecing almost $100,000 from the company she had worked for more than half her life.

Raewyn Margaret Thompson, who now goes by her maiden name of Kerr, was sentenced in the Hamilton District Court on one representative charge of theft by a person in a special relationship for a long string of thefts committed between November 9, 2008, and May 25, 2012.

But while she will be spending six months on community detention, nine months supervision and 200 hours in community work, it has been revealed more money went missing from Hamilton patent lawyers James and Wells than what the court charges show.

Thompson's lawyer Alex Hope said the $96,543.78 "differed quite significantly" to an amount settled in a confidential civil settlementbetween Thompson and her former firm.

However, he said Thompson had paid the near $97,000 back in full along with James and Wells' legal expenses and costs for a forensic investigation of their accounts.

Thompson, 48, worked at James and Wells as a financial controller; a senior and trusted position in the prominent law firm.

It was not only a company which she had worked for more than half her life - 26 years - but who also used to employ her mother.

For reasons never explained by Thompson - but described by police prosecutor Sergeant Mark Robertson as pure "greed" - on November 9, 2008, she began an elaborate and calculated way of slowly stealing money.

Among them was manipulating the business partners' expenses and credit cards.

James and Wells partner and business manager Ian Finch told the court Thompson would identify items which could be passed off as legitimate expenses, make a claim and pocket the money.

The result was her buying an award-winning beach front home at Whitianga and splashing out on new cars. She also ploughed money into expensive landscaping on the beach home and her former Huntington home, which she kitted out with pricey New Zealand art works and which was featured in a Waikato Times house and lifestyle publication. It was shown off to hundreds of people on the Hamilton Fine Homes Tour.

Mr Hope said a pre-sentence report had outlined Thompson's low self-esteem and her placing a high value on "material possessions as a reflection of her success".

But Mr Robertson was more blunt with his description, simply saying it was motivated by "greed".

Thompson's offending was only discovered as a result of "financial irregularities" in 2012. Mr Hope said along with having repaid all monies owing, Thompson immediately resigned after being found out and entered a guilty plea as soon as she was told that a criminal prosecution would follow civil proceedings.

The court heard she had sold assets from a trust of which she was a co-trustee to settle with her old employer. After leaving James and Wells she had found a new job - but after telling her new boss of her past she was sacked and is again looking for work, with interviews lined up this week.

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In advocating for a community-based sentence, Mr Hope said it was important for Thompson's mental health that she be gainfully employed.

"She is now in a situation where she has had a spectacular fall from grace and has lost a large chunk of her assets because of incurring legal costs and associated costs from the complainant . . . she owned a house and was reasonably well-off prior to this and had to step right back down. She's bought another house but has a sizeable mortgage."

Judge Clark said had it not been for Thompson repaying the money she would have been facing a heftier sentence.

Outside court, Mr Finch said other staff were shocked and saddened by the thefts and their only reason for proceeding with the criminal charges was to make sure Thompson did not move on to another unwitting employer.

Mr Finch said the amount taken by Thompson was "significantly larger" than claimed in the charges, but it was not worth the drawn-out legal proceedings to pursue it any further.

"Our primary concern was if she was employed by another party who would have no knowledge of what she had done in our firm, because she is quite credible."

Mr Finch said Thompson had targeted the firms' partnership trading account and not its client funds or trusts. 

- Waikato Times

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