A Whangarei woman has been extradited from Australia after an exhaustive 18-month process to place her before the courts for frauds against the Ministry of Education totalling $540,000.
Herald sources have revealed that officers returned from Sydney just before midnight on Wednesday to put Harriet Stevenson in the dock at the Hamilton District Court yesterday to face seven fraud-related charges relating to the number of children in her care.
The 36-year-old and her estranged husband were the directors of Noah's Ark Learning Centre, a company that ran a centre by the same name and Noah's Ark Montessori Tikipunga in Whangarei.
The company appeared to have got into financial difficulties, and it's alleged the offending occurred from late 2011 to late 2012.
Stevenson is accused of inflating the number of children in her two childcare centres to receive extra funding from the ministry.
It's alleged the money was used to keep the businesses afloat and for general expenses.
As well as six counts of using a document for pecuniary advantage, Stevenson faces a charge of using a forged document after signing off the teaching certificate of a teacher.
She is not a registered teacher herself, but allegedly signed the registration in another teacher's name.
Stevenson was remanded without plea on the seven charges and bailed to an Auckland address where she is under a 24-hour curfew.
She will reappear in Hamilton District Court next month.
The ministry funding, which is paid quarterly, covered three funding periods for both childcare centres.
Charges were originally laid by police two years ago, when the ministry began to notice anomalies. Once inquiries began, Stevenson and her husband moved to Australia.
The Herald understands the couple have since broken up and the husband moved back to New Zealand. He is not involved in the police inquiry.
Following the granting of bail, an emotional Stevenson burst into tears after being consoled by her parents outside court. She declined to comment to the Herald.
An Education Review Office report from September 2012 reveals that the first centre had 27 children on its roll.
However, it noted there had been "significant staff turnover" and alarm bells were ringing about that lack of budget information for the government funding.
• Extradition allows for the surrender of a suspected or convicted criminal from one state to another.
• A country requesting extradition may rely on either an international treaty or the domestic law of the foreign country.
• An "extradition offence" is an offence punishable in the requesting country by a maximum penalty of not less than 12 months' imprisonment.