Couple admit $500,000 thefts from disabled trust

A Pegasus couple will pay back almost all the half-a-million dollars they have stolen from a disability support trust they were running in Waltham.

Name suppression lifted today when the couple – Cecilia Ann Ellenbroek, 61, and Alfonsus Jozef Maria Ellenbroek, 64 – admitted stealing the money from the Alpha Support Centre Trust between 2010 and 2015.

The Serious Fraud Office which has brought the prosecution is asking for some of money to go to residents of trust during those years, since they did not receive all the support they should have because of the thefts.

Prosecutor Anne Toohey said inquiries had begun to try to assess what those payments should be and who they should go to. The SFO will present that information identifying the victims before the couple are sentenced in October.

Christchurch District Court Judge Gary MacAskill remanded them on continued bail for sentencing on October 25. He asked for pre-sentence reports with assessments of their suitability for home detention.

He did not ask for a report on their ability to pay reparations after defence counsel for Cecilia Ellenbroek, James Rapley, said substantial reparation was going to be paid into the court prior to the sentencing.

Cecilia Ellenbroek admitted six charges of false accounting and six charges of theft by a person in a special relationship, amounting to $494,544.

Alfonsus Ellenbroek admitted six charges of theft by a person in a special relationship, totalling $71,080.

The charges detail how the couple listed personal expenditure as business expenses for the trust which was contracted to receive funding from the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Social Development.

The trust was established in 1998 because there was a shortage of community-based day support services in Christchurch after the psychopaedic units at the Templeton Centre were closed in 1996. Adults deinstitutionalised from Templeton went into community-based support.

Alpha was set up as a charitable trust, to work as a disability service provider, which ceased operation in 2015.

The Ellenbroeks were the trustees. Alfonsus Ellenbroek was the chairman and the operations manager. He oversaw the payroll.

Cecilia Ellenbroek was the effective chief executive officer responsible for the day-to-day management.

The trust operated from permises in Ferry Road, with the aim of providing “quality vocational and recreational services for peoople with an intellectual disability”. It received about a million dollars a year in funding from the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Social Development. It also received donations and funding grants from other sources, which ranged up to $50,000 a year.

The trust operated a credit card account to be used in buying items for the trust. Cecilia Ellenbroek reviewed the monthly statement for the cards and handwrote code next to each purchase indicating which purchases were for the trust and which were personal.

The couple used the cards to buy personal items including travel and accommodation, groceries, cigarettes, alcohol, clothing and accessories, appliances and homewares. Some of the purchases were made in Queenstown where they have a holiday home.

Cecilia Ellenbroek coded these personal expenses as trust expenses:

  • More than $120,000 for personal accommodation at a beachfront condo in Waikiki Beach, Honolulu.
  • About $21,000 towards sightseeing trips for them and their intellectually disabled son to San Diego, New York, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles, including flights, accommodation, meals, and entertainment.
  • Kitchen and laundry appliances valued at more than $14,000.
  • Diamond earrings valued at $3999.
  • Flights and New Zealand concert tickets for Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Jason Derulo, and Bruno Mars.
  • Grocery purchases made with the credit card exceeded the grocery requirements of the trust.

Cecilia Ellenbroek constantly impressed on the trust’s staff that there was a need to economise. She asked staff to keep heating off during winter until the clients had arrived, limit outings to save on petrol costs, refrain from using new art and crafts items, and reduced baking sessions.

Miss Toohey said: “The staff of Alpha saw a noticeable decline in the standard of service offered to Alpha’s clients from 2010 to 2015, which was directly related to a shortage of funding.

“One staff member ultimately felt compelled to resign as she was unable to provide the level of care that was required with the resources available.”

Cecilia Ellenbroek had specifically targeted high needs clients to secure more funing, but these clients required significant staff oversight. “The most significant impact of the funding shortage was the inability to pay and retain sufficient staff,” said Miss Toohey.

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