A former Canterbury DHB employee who defrauded the organisation and spent the money on gambling and a lavish lifestyle has been sentenced to three years in prison.
The Serious Fraud Office found multiple fraudulent transactions between January 2013 and August 2018 amounting to $1,062,973.
The ex-admin worker, who was in her early 50s and has since left the DHB, admitted to the SFO in March 2019, she took CDHB money, diverting patients' cash into her personal bank accounts, and causing patients to deposit funds directly to her.
She also set up a company to act as a "clearing house" for the stolen funds.
She pleaded guilty to one charge of representative fraud in August 2019.
Despite initially claiming the money was used to fund a gambling addiction, it emerged in court only about one-quarter of the money was actually used for gambling. Stolen money was also used to fund cosmetic surgery in Thailand, gifts to the woman's family, and a jet ski. High-interest loans were also paid off.
The court heard that many of the people who unwittingly gave her money were from overseas, or spoke limited English.
Before sentencing, Crown prosecutor Mark Zerifah said the offending involved premeditation to the highest degree and involved considerable sophistication.
"Planned and repeated dishonesty for financial gain is serious offending," said Zerifah.
The offending was also "undermining the public trust and confidence in the CDHB".
Defence counsel Phil Shamy said the woman had shown remorse.
"The defendant attended a voluntary interview without hesitation and freely admitted what occurred," he said.
"She has co-operated as far as she can."
Aside from the remorse and co-operation, Shamy told the court the woman's early guilty plea and lack of previous convictions needed to be taken into account.
Judge Tom Gilbert said there was an "element of greed" in her offending, and little prospect of the money being repaid.
She was sentenced to three years in prison.
The woman was granted interim name suppression.
The CDHB's acting chief executive, Dr Andrew Brant, said after sentencing he was "extremely disappointed" that a former staff member had been charged with false accounting.
"When employed by the DHB, the staff member was responsible for liaising with individuals and at times their insurance companies to arrange payment for healthcare services provided to people in Canterbury who are not eligible to receive publicly funded healthcare."
When concerns were first raised, he said, the DHB's internal audit team found indications of fraudulent activity.
The woman was suspended, police notified, and a third party began an investigation.
It was recommended the DHB improved its internal controls for managing revenue from patients who were not eligible for healthcare services in New Zealand.
"A number of changes" were made, said Brant.
"We have ensured that no patients are out of pocket as a result of the individual's actions, and we are working with our insurers regarding the loss incurred by the DHB."