Cleaner stole cheques, cash donated to church

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St John's Anglican Church in Tauranga, where cleaner Gabriel Darren Te Huia stole donated money. Photo / Joel Ford
St John's Anglican Church in Tauranga, where cleaner Gabriel Darren Te Huia stole donated money. Photo / Joel Ford

A Tauranga man working as a cleaner at a local church stole cash and cheques donated by members of the congregation and cashed at least one cheque after forging the vicar's signature.

Gabriel Darren Te Huia, 39, unemployed, pleaded guilty to one charge of using a document to obtain a pecuniary advantage and two charges of theft in Tauranga District Court on Friday.

The charges relate to Te Huia stealing donations and childcare payments totalling $1712 while working as a cleaner at St John's Anglican Church.

The police summary of facts revealed that in September last year Te Huia began working as a cleaner at the church.

His duties included cleaning the entire church except for the vestry.

The church generates income for running costs through donations from members of the congregation and its childcare centre and payments are made in cash or cheques.

In early May this year a church official noticed that the amount of recorded monies donated and paid to the church differed from what was available to be banked and reported the matter to police.

Enquiries established that between May 1 and June 19 Te Huia stole a total of $231 of cash either from the cash box in the childcare centre or the filing cabinet in the vicar's office.

After noticing cash was missing, church staff changed the locks on the doors of the vicar's office and three sets of keys were created, including a spare.

At that stage Te Huia was not suspected of the thefts but was advised that he would not be required to clean the vicar's office.

But one night while cleaning Te Huia located the spare key and also obtained a key to the filing cabinet.

On or about July 2 he broke into the vicar's office and removed a blank cheque from a cheque book belonging to the church.

He then wrote the cheque out for $1280 cash and forged the two assigned signatories and cashed it at the Bayfair branch of Westpac on July 3.

Later that month Te Huia again used a key to gain entry to the vicar's office and removed a canvas bank bag containing $201 cash donations and a number of cheques from a filing cabinet, which had been donated by members of the congregation.

A week later on August 6 the disappearance of the $1280 forged cash cheque was noticed by church staff and the matter was reported to police.

CCTV footage showed Te Huia cashing the cheque and during a police search of his home on August 10 the stolen keys were found.

When questioned by police about the forged cheque Te Huia claimed he had found it on the ground, and cashed it to repay a debt, and at that time denied he had stole money from the vicar's office.

None of the stolen cash has been recovered and $1712 reparation was being sought.
Judge Alayne Wills told Te Huia that while she was calling for a home detention report that was not to be taken as any indication that he would receive a community-based sentence.

Te Huia will be sentenced on October 23.

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