Jail for $1m bank accounting fraud

A Waikato bank manager who defrauded Westpac Bank and its customers out of more than $1 million was yesterday jailed for 7 ½ years.

Susan Ann Bourton's "deliberate and determined" offending between July 2001 and November 2010 was described in Hamilton District Court.

At the outset of her trial last year, the 36-year-old pleaded guilty to 25 charges and was later found guilty of another 56 by Judge Philip Connell.

After some time spent covering the details of the offending, Judge Connell yesterday sentenced the fraudster and added a minimum non-parole period of three years.

The case has been characterised by its slow progress after Bourton sacked numerous lawyers, so it was little surprise to victims of her fraud when there was another adjournment last week because Bourton required medical attention after getting an electric shock from a toaster while in prison.

Crown prosecutor Jacinda Foster described how Bourton's original offending, where she provided false details to third-party lending companies to secure funds, was relatively unsophisticated.

But when she gained employment as a business banking manager at Westpac in May 2005, her methods became more complex as she opened and maintained fictitious accounts before moving on to manipulate clients' accounts without their knowledge.

"The course of conduct engaged in illustrates she was a master manipulator who weaved an intricate web of deception with far-reaching consequences for anyone unfortunate enough to be caught within it," Ms Foster said.

Among those unfortunate people were James Harris and Lorraine Gould, whose money was being moved around behind their backs to service Bourton's numerous debts, which had accumulated through her "champagne lifestyle".

Outside court, Mrs Gould – who nearly lost her Hamilton property because of the fiasco – said she was relieved the nightmare was finally over.

"It's been five years of suffering through it ... it's her turn and I hope she suffers as long as we have," she said.

Mrs Gould was not convinced by a letter of remorse Bourton provided to the court and said she had little hope of the fraudster making any change while behind bars. "She may well spend that time planning the next event," Mrs Gould said.

The Crown told the court that what set the offending apart from the usual type of fraud seen before the courts was how Bourton continued to manipulate her victims' bank accounts even when she had left Westpac and was living in Ireland, using aliases and internet banking to make it seem as though customers were aware of their precarious financial positions.

Judge Connell said it was "particularly cynical and insidious" but some of the most significant offences came when Bourton was on bail.

While police were investigating the magnitude of the fraud, she attempted to borrow $1.5 million from two banks and tried to get her hands on $14m to buy Karapiro Lodge, something the Crown described as "entirely arrogant".

Ms Foster said the "robbing Peter to pay Paul" offending was almost impossible to quantify but there was at least $1.4m of real loss.

After reading Bourton's late letter of remorse, in which she said not a day went by without her feeling shame, Judge Connell said it was a dramatic departure from her previous attitude and what she told probation services in a pre-sentence interview.

She tried to minimise her offending and even pushed the blame on to her former colleagues.

Bourton will be back in court in August potentially facing two charges of perjury.

Waikato Times