Te Kuiti's $2.5 million fraudster gets more jail after hidden bank account discovered

Te Kuiti's $2.5 million fraudster gets more jail after hidden bank account discovered

A former Te Kuiti woman labelled “callous and greedy” jailed for stealing $2 million from her employer has been given extra jail time after a secret bank account, concealing nearly $450,000, was discovered.

However, a legal system technicality meant the extra five months’ Judge Philip Crayton determined Sharon Margaret Bradley should serve for the new theft couldn’t be added to her minimum prison term handed down earlier this year.

Judge Tini Clark jailed Bradley for four years and five months in January and ordered her to serve a minimum non-parole period of 50 per cent. Bradley lost an appeal against that minimum parole period and an ongoing name suppression bid by Justice Mathew Downs in the High Court in June.

A forensic investigator appointed by the High Court in civil proceedings discovered the hidden bank account earlier this year during her victims’ continued fight to reclaim some of the stolen money tied up in a trust through civil proceedings.

Those proceedings are ongoing, but police charged Bradley with six further representative charges of theft by a person in a special relationship in relation totalling $425,739.03.

After pleading guilty to the charges in September, she reappeared via audio visual link in the Te Kuiti District Court for sentencing today.

The court heard the money was transferred into an account held by the defendant not known to police until she was required to provide it to a forensic accountant as part of the civil proceedings.

Police then had to go to the High Court to get the accountant’s evidence, which was released in April this year.

They discovered the money was stolen in 14 separate transactions over a seven-year period between April 2006 and 2013.

The latest theft revelation is in addition to the $2,002,332.51 she was jailed for in January. The total amount stolen now sits at $2,428,091.54.

Te Kuiti's $2.5 million fraudster gets more jail after hidden bank account discovered

Sharon Margaret Bradley tries to hide her face as she is put into a van en-route to prison after her sentencing in January this year. Photo / Belinda Feek

Her modus operandi was similar to her earlier offending, except this time she deposited the money into her own ANZ Bank account.

The married mother-of-three worked for Ross M Alleman Accountant from 1991 before it amalgamated with Lionel Smith & Associates in early 2012.

She worked as an assistant accountant from 1991 to March 2018 and had access to the bank account of its client – Eight Mile Farm Ltd – to pay their bills.

Bradley would pay legitimate invoices, but then reload the invoice and transfer the same amount of money into joint accounts with husband, John.

Having the ability to withdraw money using internet banking, Bradley began stealing.

The first representative charge relates to three withdrawals between April 13, 2006, and December 21, 2006, involving $63,320.09.

After the Christmas break, she returned to work and on January 18, 2007, spent the next seven months stealing a further $165,358.25 through six different withdrawals.

After her offending was discovered in 2018, 51-year-old Bradley and her family left Te Kuiti, moving 30 minutes north to Te Awamutu.

Police prosecutor Baden Hilton asked Judge Crayton for an additional term of eight months, while Bradley’s lawyer Sam Moore asked for an increase in remorse discount from 5 per cent to 10 per cent.

But for the victim, family spokesperson for Eight Mile Farms who read yet another victim impact statement to the court, no amount of jail time would be enough to reconcile the loss not just monetary, but psychologically.

The offending and legal proceedings had used up “the most productive years of my life” that he should have been able to enjoy, and instead had sent him and his family in a spiral of disarray.

He told Bradley that if she felt one ounce of remorse then she should pay the stolen money back, “pure and simple”.

The trust is in the name of herself and husband, John, but Moore said his clients hands were tied in regards to being able to release any of it.

Te Kuiti's $2.5 million fraudster gets more jail after hidden bank account discovered

Sharon Bradley hides her face as she runs from the Te Kuiti District Court after an appearance during 2020. She's accompanised by Detective Scott Middlemiss. Photo / Belinda Feek

“There seems to be an ongoing misunderstanding. Mrs Bradley is bankrupt so any money that is available is in trust funds but she does not have the ability to release those funds.

“She quite literally does not have the power to do so.”

However, Judge Crayton responded, noting that “she can facilitate the process”.

Responding to police claims she knew about the account, Moore said the offending happened 15 years and it was hard to “keep a log” of how much she’d stolen.

“We are talking about offending that goes back 15 years and we’re talking about a number of transactions.

“So I do reject the notion that Mrs Bradley must have known. It is very difficult to keep a log of these sorts of things and of course, offending of this nature, one does not keep a record.”

Te Kuiti's $2.5 million fraudster gets more jail after hidden bank account discovered

Convicted fraudster Sharon Margaret Bradley, 61, appearing via AVL for sentencing in the Te Kuiti District Court today. Photo / Mike Scott

As for what she did with the missing millions, Moore had earlier submitted it was spent on trying to keep their farming business afloat.

However, Judge Crayton noted, as did Justice Downs in his appeal decision, that Bradley had gone on 47 international trips, mostly to the United States, during her offending period.

He said the main reason he gave her a 5 per cent discount for remorse, was the fact she attended a restorative justice conference with the victims – despite her not engaging with them and only reading a pre-prepared statement.

Bradley’s total prison term now sits at four years 10 months, however Judge Crayton said he did “not have the power” to alter her current minimum term of prison meaning she will still be eligible for parole in early 2023.

Callous and greedy

Outside court, and speaking on behalf of the victims, Waikato police Detective Scott Middlemiss said they were “happy with the outcome”.

“It’s callous and greedy offending by a self-entitled defendant whose offending has seen her enjoy an extravagant and lavish lifestyle.

“We just hope that she is able to help facilitate the return of the victims’ money.”

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