Nicholas Jones

Nicholas Jones is the New Zealand Herald’s education reporter.

Mum steals $330k from marae to feed pokies

Jocelyn Iwa Ngareta Renata, 50, was sentenced to two years and three months in jail. Photo / Christine Cornege.
Jocelyn Iwa Ngareta Renata, 50, was sentenced to two years and three months in jail. Photo / Christine Cornege.

A mother of two stole more than $330,000 from her employer to feed into SkyCity casino's pokie machines.

The fraud is the latest criminal case where a person had stolen hundreds of thousands of dollars after becoming addicted to gambling at the casino.

Jocelyn Iwa Ngareta Renata, 50, was sentenced to two years and three months' jail after stealing a total of $331,626 from Hoani Waititi Marae, for which she acted as financial officer.

She had worked for the Glen Eden marae in various roles for 17 years.

But she stole the money from her employer - a charitable trust responsible for the marae's administration - after becoming addicted to gambling.

"You stated that the offending gave you an exciting lifestyle, a positive buzz, and made you feel good," Judge Allison Sinclair said in sentencing at the Auckland District Court in April.

"You advised the report writer that ... all the money went into the machines and you got nothing."

More than $600,000 passed through Renata's gambling account at SkyCity.

She used the trust's credit card to obtain $42,939 of cash advances at the casino. She also cashed cheques worth $18,149 using the trust's account.

Renata overpaid wages to herself and family members and kept nearly $3000 received from parents who used the marae's childcare facility.

She told the court that when she started gambling in 1997 she would spend about $50 a week, but by 2006 she was addicted. Renata resigned soon after the marae's bank raised concerns about the Visa credit card account.

A forensic accountant and lawyer were employed at considerable expense to learn the extent of Renata's offending, and the trust survived only by arranging a bank overdraft.

"The trust has developed many initiatives to assist Maori in the areas of education, training, justice and health, and your fraud severely jeopardised its activities," Judge Sinclair said.

"Your offending has caused the trust extreme embarrassment and put its reputation as a trusted recipient of public funds at risk."

A representative of the marae could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Documents obtained by the Herald under the Official Information Act show the Department of Internal Affairs has raised concerns over similar cases at the casino.

Department officials wrote in a report that SkyCity patrons effectively had "unlimited access" to cash from numerous ATMs throughout the casino and its Bank of New Zealand branch.

"This unlimited access to cash is thought to exacerbate problem gambling," said the Internal Affairs memo, dated last July.

Last week the Herald revealed that the Bank of New Zealand was being sued by a company after its former employee stole $2.7 million from it to gamble as a VIP at SkyCity.

Over a six-year period, Herminia Lanuza wrote out multiple fraudulent cheques worth $784,363 drawn on the account of her employer, many of which were cashed at the BNZ casino branch.

A single cheque for $30,100 was cashed one minute after the bank opened at 9am.

According to the Problem Gambling Foundation the ready availability of cash at a casino enabled gamblers to chase losses and was a key determinant in managing problem gambling.

FEEDING THE ADDICTION

* $331,000 stolen over 3 years

* Equates to $260 a day spent and lost at SkyCity.

* Betting on the pokies ranges from 1c to $25, with minimum amount for a machine $2.

- NZ Herald

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