Te Kuiti's $2m fraudster loses name suppression appeal

Belinda Feek, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Wed, 9 Jun 2021, 7:12AM

Te Kuiti's $2m fraudster loses name suppression appeal

Belinda Feek, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Wed, 9 Jun 2021, 7:12AM

A former Te Kuiti woman who stole $2 million from her employer over a 12-year period has lost her bid for permanent name suppression.

She can finally be named as Sharon Margaret Bradley, 61, now of Te Awamutu.

Judge Tini Clark jailed Bradley for four years and five months and ordered her to serve a minimum non-parole period of 50 per cent when she appeared in the Te Kuiti District Court for sentencing in January.

At the time, the judge declined her name suppression application but Bradley's lawyer, Sam Moore, lodged an immediate appeal against that and her minimum prison term.

Bradley's offending was deemed by Judge Clark as serious as she had "decimated" the lives of those she had affected; her supposed friends. Her assets remain frozen by the High Court in a separate civil case.

The married mother-of-three worked for Ross M Alleman Accountant from 1991 before it amalgamated with Lionel Smith & Associates in early 2012.

She worked as an assistant accountant from 1991 to March 2018 and had access to the bank account of its client - Eight Mile Farm Ltd - to pay their bills.

But in 2007, Bradley began stealing money.

Sharon Margaret Bradley, 61, hides her face as she is escorted from the Te Kuiti District Court with Detective Scott Middlemiss after admitting stealing $2m from her employer. (Photo / Belinda Feek)

On February 21 she paid an invoice of $17,445.80 for shearing services using Eight Mile's internet banking.

She then reloaded the invoice and transferred the same amount of money to her own account.

It would be a year before she'd steal again. Between March 27, 2008, and October 10, 2008, she transferred more than $125,000 on two separate occasions.

In total, she stole $2,002,332.51 from Eight Mile Farms this way.

She resigned in March 2018 to pursue other interests - her offending not being discovered until more than a year later when a different assistant accountant used the same autofill function and found it had transferred money into Bradley's account.

Bradley ultimately pleaded guilty to 12 representative charges of theft by a person in a special relationship; the charges represent 61 different transactions over 12 years.

Moore appealed the minimum prison term believing the judge overlooked the fact she had pleaded guilty at an early stage - second appearance - that she was remorseful and other, similar fraud cases where a minimum term hadn't been imposed.

But Justice Mathew Downs said it wasn't "seriously arguable" that the judge overlooked her early guilty plea, Judge Clark noted it and gave her a full 25 per cent discount.

He noted that Judge Clark "was not persuaded of the existence of any great remorse".

"She noted Ms Bradley said 'all of the right things', but these sat uneasily with other things Ms Bradley said."

They included how she told a probation officer that Eight Mile Farms "had it easy" and that "someone was not doing their job" in relation to the approval of payment of invoices.

Those comments - mentioned at the January sentencing - drew gasps from the public gallery, packed mainly full of the victims and their supporters.

Sharon Margaret Bradley hides as she gets into a prison wagon at the Te Kuiti District Court after being jailed for four years and five months. (Photo / Belinda Feek)

The probation officer said the comments exhibited a "sense of entitlement" and questioned the authenticity of her remorse.

In her submission to the court, through her lawyer Moore, Bradley said she would never offend again, she hoped to regain the trust of the community and that she hadn't spent the money on "flash cars or [to] go on fancy holidays".

However, that prompted the officer in charge of the investigation to file an affidavit in response, stating that Bradley flew internationally 47 times - including to the United States - during the offence period.

Moore also argued for a dismissal of the minimum prison term as his client had "co-operated with the police to the greatest extent possible".

Justice Downs said when he questioned Moore on that submission, he "recalibrated" it by saying, she was "not unco-operative".

"The correct position is Ms Bradley did not co-operate with police," Justice Downs wrote in his decision.

Moore also submitted Bradley was of good character, but Justice Downs said "true, but [this] 'otherwise' risks minimising 11 years of serial theft and related deceit".

As for name suppression, it was sought by Bradley to protect herself, her daughter and husband, who would have suspicion cast on him.

However, Justice Downs said the printing of his wife's name should counteract suspicion as he had not been charged and there was no evidence he knew of his wife's offending.

He declined the application, saying that the criminal process was now all but over.

He extended the suppression - which lapsed today - for a further 10 weeks from his March judgment to give the family time to seek necessary help to deal with the fallout.

At her sentencing, Matthew Buckley, on behalf of Eight Mile Farms, spoke of how he was "floored" learning who had stolen from them; a woman who was part of their "inner sanctum ... a most trusted member".

Lionel Smith told Judge Clark how Bradley had continued to offend despite his wife being diagnosed, and later dying, of cancer.

He said he'd endured "dark times and dark thoughts" and told the Herald the appeal process had simply prolonged the impact of Bradley's fraud and he was pleased with the decision.

"While we believe the sentence doesn't reflect the damage done, we were satisfied with the sentence imposed.

"After what seemed like a very long and drawn-out process, we feel relieved to eventually have this behind us. The appeal process just drew things out even further so, needless to say, we were pleased with the decision of the High Court.

"The impact of her fraud was far-reaching and had a huge emotional toll on myself, my business partner, our families and staff.

"Te Kuiti is a small rural community and for a local person to commit this type of systematic offending over an extended period of time is devastating."