Woman admits holiday fraud after e-mail blunder

By Edward Gay

Anita Cranston. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Anita Cranston. Photo / Sarah Ivey

A woman has admitted deceiving would-be holiday makers out of thousands of dollars after a judge caught her out on the finer points of sending email.

Anita Cranston denied 24 charges of using emails to get $60,000 worth of deposits from would-be holiday makers looking to rent a luxury villa in Denarau, Fiji.

The Crown said she continued to take deposits from holiday makers, despite the home being the subject of three separate legal bids. Cranston also double-booked some of the families who then had to re-book accommodation at the last minute.

Eight days into her trial at the Auckland District Court today, Cranston changed her plea.

She was in the witness box giving evidence in her defence yesterday when she was asked a series of questions by Judge David Harvey.

Cranston had told the court she mistakenly sent Mericia Waqanimaravu an email in April, 2011, confirming her booking for the home that included four bedrooms and bathrooms, a pool, spa and a garage full of holiday toys including a golf cart.

Cranston also asked for $2097 as a deposit.

But she told the court she had meant to send the email to a person called Mericini - not Mericia.

However, Judge Harvey pointed out that Cranston's email was a 'reply to' email.

"You can't make that sort of mistake," said the judge.

Cranston said she had made a mistake but Judge Harvey persisted.

"Give me some credit, Ms Cranston, for knowing a little bit - not a lot - but a little bit about how technology works. It doesn't work that way."

After the exchange Ms Cranston's lawyer Alice Kemp asked for an adjournment.

Today Crown prosecutor Rachael Reed presented a new charge that included all the complainants.

Cranston pleaded guilty.

The news has brought relief to Cranston's victims who are still waiting for their money back.

Leonie Wallace booked the Fiji home and was looking forward to celebrating her brother's wedding a year after her mother was murdered.

She said she emailed Cranston a number of times in January 2011 before phoning her to confirm the booking and paying a $2625 deposit.

"The tone was very friendly and I guess that's what made it possible to open up," she told the court.

She told APNZ today that giving the evidence had been hard.

"We got taken for a ride. At the end of the day, we were totally sick of her lies."

Ms Wallace said Cranston knew what her family had been through but "she just brushed it off".

Another witness in the case was accountant Paul Moodie who flew up from his home in Dunedin to give evidence at the trial.

Mr Moodie paid $6375 for a deposit on the Fiji house and was planning to celebrate his 50th birthday with family and friends.

The celebration went ahead - but like Ms Wallace's family - the Moodies had to find alternative accommodation.

"I wasn't going to let her destroy my 50th and we were committed to going anyway."

Mr Moodie said Cranston sent him emails making promises and blaming everyone else for things going wrong.

"I think she was living in a dream."

Cranston will be sentenced next month.

- APNZ

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