No jail time for fraudster

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An Oamaru man, who stole more than $30,000 from St John, escaped imprisonment yesterday after the court used its ability to apply mercy in appropriate circumstances over concerns for his mental wellbeing.

Murray Vickers Francis Jones, 70, of Oamaru, appeared before Judge Joanna Maze at the Oamaru District Court yesterday after pleading guilty to one charge of obtaining $31,765 from the Order of St John between January 1, 2009, and December 31, 2012.

Mr Jones, who was involved with St John for 45 years as registrar of the Order of St John, area executive officer of Oamaru Area Committee and a member of the South Island Region Trust Board, was convicted, sentenced to six months’ community detention and 200 hours’ community work.

Jones took the money in unsupported cash withdrawals and unauthorised transactions while he was the sole officer undertaking administration and secretarial duties for St John Oamaru over the four year period, to fund a gambling addiction.

Defence counsel Michael de Buyzer said the case was “exceptional” as the reparation had been paid in full by Mr Jones and he had also repaid St John $28,000 for the cost of the audit to investigate the theft.

He admitted his guilt early on and took steps to “right the wrongs” by repaying the money and by admitting himself to a gambling treatment programme and mental health services for depression before the matter was brought to police attention, Mr de Buyzer said.

During his treatment programme he had been embracing the need to help educate others by taking part in public education sessions and using himself as an example, he said.

“I congratulate him for taking that step in such a public way.”

His “pokie machine fetish” started after he went to a pokie room in a hotel, during one of his frequent out-of-town meetings for the organisation, and won a sum of money.

“He became hooked.”

A combination of factors led him to the pokie room and those who knew him said he became overwhelmed with his duties and seemed to be suffering from depression, the defence counsel said.

Judge Joanna Maze said this was Mr Jones’ first conviction and he was “deeply ashamed” of his actions, however he seriously abused his position of trust.

Imprisonment or home detention is the usual starting point for theft of more than $30,000 but given the courts ability to apply mercy in appropriate circumstances she felt it necessary to sentence him to community detention and community work as she had concerns for his mental wellbeing.

St John South Island general manager David Thomas said while the organisation is relieved the matter has finally been resolved they are severely disappointed in his actions.

“[His actions] have left many people feeling shocked and bewildered.

“His theft from St John was a theft from his community and was deeply shocking.

“His theft was systemic, lengthy and premeditated and has been deeply wounding to our organisation.”

The money has been repaid but it does not change the fact of his deceit towards his colleagues, as well as the many people who have donated to St John over the years, he said.