Invoices for mysterious workers such as Margaret the cleaner and Eric the driver led to the downfall of a woman who defrauded the Hastings District Council of an amount understood to be $530,000.
Opal Taylor, 60, appeared in the Hastings District Court yesterday charged with 14 counts of using tax invoices or statements to dishonestly obtain a pecuniary advantage.
Formerly the manager of the Hastings Sports Centre, Taylor ceased working for the council earlier this year after internal processes disclosed some irregularities in invoices presented to council.
The summary of facts obtained by Hawke's Bay Today stated the council identified a number of suspicious invoices from Hawke's Bay Paraplegic and Physically Disabled Association Incorporated (Parafed HB) for cleaning and transportation during a review.
They identified Parafed HB's address was the same as the defendant's and found that a cleaner called "Margaret", as mentioned by Taylor in the review, did not exist.
The Hastings Sports Centre also owned it's own vans and drivers so there should have been no transport costs incurred by the Hastings District Council.
A cleaner was identified and spoken to, admitting they were paid under the table at $14 per hour for 10 hours a week by Taylor, but they were paid far less than the council was billed for.
In relation to transport related invoices, Taylor said they were for "Eric" who picked up children from one of the schools and delivered them to a school holiday programe at the Sports Centre.
Investigations found Taylor had billed almost all 195 invoices throughout the 13 year period, which tallied $530,628. Her offending dated back to 2004 and continued until earlier this year.
Payments were made to Parafed HB whom Taylor admitted to previously working for but denied hiring; saying they had closed their office and stored gear in her shed at home.
She was unable to provide a contact person for the company, saying contact with them was by leaving notes in the cupboard at the Sports Centre or leaving mail for them in the second shed at her home.
When initially spoken to by council she admitted writing all the invoices at the council facility because "they" kept making stuff ups. Her responses to council management seeking to clarify information were described as vague and evasive.
A Hastings District Council spokesperson said Taylor was employed between 2001 and 2017, and spent the majority of this time in the managing role at the Hastings Sports Centre where she was responsible for running the council-owned facility.
They said the council had reviewed and introduced additional audit processes and controls as a result of the offending.
"The matter is still within the court process however Council reiterates it has zero tolerance toward fraudulent use of Council funds and assets."
Taylor failed to show at her last court hearing two weeks ago; her defence lawyer Bill Calver telling the court she was bedridden with a severe case of kidney stones at the time.
Interim name suppression granted at her first appearance was continued, partly due to her illness, but lapsed yesterday.
Judge Max Courtney convicted and remanded her on bail to appear again on September 26.
It was noted the Crown would consider the defence's submissions and advise the court if a disputed facts hearing would be required before sentencing. Full reparation to the tune of $530,628 was sought.
The maximum penalty of each of the charges is seven years' imprisonment.