September 03, 2009

Travel agent's dishonesty brings jail term

Travel agent Dennis Alan Price faces six months in prison and a big reparation bill for using clients’ money to pay for his gambling.

He has paid nearly all the money back but Christchurch District Court Judge Jane Farish today ruled that $7492 was outstanding, and he must also pay his former employer for “consequential losses” she assessed at $32,547.

That includes 300 hours of the 600 hours work spent sorting out the financial transactions and manipulations by 54-year-old Price who has admitted 60 charges of obtaining money by deception.

Judge Farish told Price: “There is an impact on the public and their trust in travel agents. You have significantly undermined that because of your offending.”

She noted that Price did not see himself as a problem gambler because he didn’t lose.

He is now out of a job even though he has kept the support of his present employer in the travel industry, where his work brought in sporting and corporate clients.

The Travel Agents’ Association of New Zealand last night passed a motion that no-one could be employed in a bonded travel agency business if they had convictions for dishonesty.

It means that Price can no longer be employed in a business where he has worked and done well for about 30 years.

He had offered to pay reparations on the basis that he would be able to continue working, but Judge Farish referred to his “reduced circumstances” as a result of the association’s move.

Defence counsel James Rapley had raised the possibility of a discharge without conviction to allow Price to keep working and make the payment of reparations and a fine.

But Judge Farish said she thought the association would regard it as inappropriate if she effectively sidestepped the association’s measures.

A total of about $80,000 was diverted by Price into the Visa accounts of himself and his partner.

It was repaid, but crown prosecutor Deirdre Elsmore said Price only paid it back to avoid detection as people needed to travel. Reparations had not been offered willingly, and the amount had been disputed.

Price worked for McCrory Thomas Travel at the time of the offending.

Judge Farish described the offending as significant, serious, and grave. It involved premeditation, planning, and sophistication. “I am satisfied that you obtained a personal benefit and had access to money which enabled you to gamble.”

She imposed the six-month jail term after reducing the sentence for Price’s guilty pleas, his previous good character, and the impact of losing his employment in the industry. She also reduced it because although he is in good health, he suffers from a stress-related illness.

A separate hearing later was going to consider whether Price would be released on bail pending an appeal to the Court of Appeal.