Employee who stole $17,500 from charity avoids jail

By Sandra Conchie

A Tauranga woman who stole more than $17,500 from an iwi charitable trust set up to help the less fortunate in the community has avoided prison.

But Lindley Gene Taikato, 33, of Welcome Bay will spend the next six months serving a sentence of home detention, accompanied by 100 hours' community work.

Taikato, 33, who pleaded guilty to 14 charges of theft by a person in a special relationship in June was sentenced in Tauranga District Court yesterday by Judge John Clapham. The judge also ordered her to pay $17,576.25 reparation.

Each charge Taikato admitted attracts a sentence of up to seven years' prison.

The police summary of facts revealed that at the time of the thefts Taikato was employed by Te Manu Toroa Charitable Trust as a clinic co-ordinator at Te Akau Hauora Clinic in Papamoa with sole responsibility for all the banking.

On 14 occasions between July 19, 2010 and October 26, 2011 Taikato did not bank all the monthly takings from the clinic's patients leaving a shortfall of $17,576.25. Taikato, a first-time offender before the courts, told police she took the money to buy food and pay bills.

At the start of the sentencing process her lawyer Glenn Dixon opposed the Bay of Plenty Times' request to take an in-court photograph of his client citing concerns about the effect her and her husband's four children.

Mr Dixon cited particular concerns about Taikato's 9-year-old daughter who he said had been the victim of significant bullying.

He argued that publication of her mother's photograph may well exacerbate the situation.

Mr Dixon's attempt to obtain name suppression in June for the same reasons when Taikato pleaded guilty to the charges was rejected by Judge Russell Callander who said the grounds submitted did not met the hardship threshold.

Judge Clapham said notwithstanding the likely effects on Taikato's children the wide public interest in this matter, which involved her stealing from a charitable trust set up to help underprivileged members of the community in which she lived, favoured publication.

In his ruling the judge read from the trust's victim impact statement in which he said it had expressed significant disappointment in the fact that after Taikato was "gifted with the mana" of this role which she had held for several years she had stolen from the very people she was engaged to help.

Mr Dixon said Taikato's initial theft was to help pay bills which she had intended to repay the money but when she couldn't the situation snowballed and stealing from the trust had became a habit, and deeply regretted her actions.

Once her offending came to light Taikato fully co-operated with the investigation and once she resigned the trust retained her final wages, which can be used towards paying the reparation which she agreed to repay over time.

Judge Clapham said he agreed with the trust that Taikato's offending was clearly premeditated and a "gross breach of trust".

But he said given her lack of prior convictions, previous good character, and offer to pay reparation he was prepared to impose home detention.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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