A 76-year-old woman has begun a home detention sentence while a family member begins paying back more than $20,000 that the woman stole from a Southland forestry trust – a process that will take 13 years.
Police agreed to alter the summary of facts ahead of Elizabeth Rose Bruce’s sentencing in the Christchurch District Court on a charge of theft by a person in a special relationship. She had pleaded guilty.
The summary of facts originally indicated withdrawals at the Christchurch Casino where she was gambling, but an analysis by defence counsel Rachel Wood showed that Bruce had not made any withdrawals at the casino, and her income was more than enough to cover her gambling.
It was accepted that she had taken the trust money to help her daughter who had “significant financial needs”. Police made the point that rather than stealing the funds “for some noble purpose”, Bruce could have curtailed her gambling and used that money to assist the family member.
Miss Wood said Bruce had sent letters of apology to the victims who were the beneficiaries of a Maori Forestry Trust in Southland, which was set up by the Maori Land Court in the 1990s.
Bruce was a trustee of the block of land, but the other trustee died in 2005 leaving her as the sole trustee.
She made transfers and withdrawals from the trust’s bank account in 2006, and that process went on till August 2007. She dipped into the account 46 times, taking a total of $22,245.
When she was finished the trust’s bank account contained just $3.33.
Judge Paul Kellar said it was a considerable amount of money and a gross breach of trust. There had been premeditation.
However, Bruce had expressed remorse and had previously had no convictions at the age of 76. Her motivation seemed to have been to support her daughter.
“Imprisonment is clearly not necessary to achieve sentencing objectives,” said the judge.
He ordered her to serve home detention for four months at a Sydenham address, and ordered full reparations with an immediate payment of $1500 and the rest being paid by her daughter at a rate of $30 a week. The rate will be reviewed in six months, and Judge Kellar said he expected it would be increased.