Disabled residents were ‘victims’ of couple’s fraud offending

Disabled residents at the Alpha Support Trust struggled with lack of staff and unsanitary conditions because of the thefts by the couple running the centre in Waltham, says the Serious Fraud Office.

Prosecutor Anne Toohey said: “The victims of the fraud were the clients of the Alpha Trust.”

She said at the couple’s sentencing hearing in the Christchurch District Court that the victim impact statements by the centre’s residents and their families made “disturbing reading”.

She said repayment of nearly half a million dollars reparation to the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Social Development by the couple would not “remedy the wrong” that had been done to the residents.

Some had been left in wet nappies all day because of the lack of staff, and had activities reduced. The amount stolen over a period of years might have been enough to pay for three more staff.

Cecilia Ann Ellenbroek, 62, and Alfonsus Jozef Maria Ellenbroek, 64, admitted stealing the money from the Alpha Support Centre Trust between 2010 and 2015.

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. That amount was included in the total attributed to his wife.

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.

Miss Toohey rejected any suggestion from the defence that the offenders had a “blue collar” background. The repayment of the stolen money had come from the sale of a holiday home in Queenstown and from a superannuation fund.

The offending by Cecilia Ellenbroek had enabled her and her family to live in a way that was well beyong the reach of most New Zealanders.

Full reparation is being paid. All but about $20,000 had already been paid, and the rest would be paid by the end of the year when Alfonsus Ellenbroek accessed superannuation funds.

One parent of a high-needs patient in her 20s, who was blind, had medical problems, and limited ability to communicate, said she was concerned at the lack of staff and reduced services at the Alpha Support Centre. She felt the family had been let down badly by the Ellenbroeks.

She said: “How dare they steal from such vulnerable people who have such precious little in their lives?”

Defence counsel for Alfonsus Ellenbroek, Kerry Cook, said it was astonishing that so much money had been paid over by the Ministry of Health without checks and balances in place to ensure continuing oversight. His offending had not been sophisticated.

Defence counsel for Cecilia Ellenbroek, James Rapley, said the Ministry of Health had provided the centre with $1million funding a year and had never conducted a single audit. The Ministry of Social Development had conducted a quality control audit every year or 18 months.

He said the couple had genuinely sought to help people in need and had set up the trust to do that. The fraud had been a “secondary companion” to the work they did, and had grown out of control.

He also said a jail term would be disproportionately severe in Cecilia Ellenbroek’s circumstances, because of the care she provided to her disabled son.

Judge David Saunders imposed 12 months’ home detention and 300 hours of community work on Cecilia Ellenbroek, and six months of community detention – a curfew nightly and at the weekends – on Alfonsus Ellenbroek as well as 200 hours of community work.

He also ordered six months of post-detention conditions and full reparations.

The Serious Fraud Office accepted that a community-based sentence was appropriate for Alfonsus Ellenbroek, but it also argued against home detention for Cecilia Ellenbroek and it may consider lodging a Solicitor-General’s appeal against the sentence.

The two government departments involved have said the reparations will go towards the National Disability Support Service and the Community Participation Service for Disabled Persons.

The names of the Alpha Support Trust patients seen as victims of the offending are suppressed.