Annette Roberts, a 58-year-old travel agent for the Travel and Cruise North East company in Wangaratta, has pleaded guilty to stealing over half a million to fund her severe gambling addiction. She used the money from customers who had canceled their vacations instead of refunding them.
Fueling a Severe Addiction
Roberts was highly addicted, with her playing on gambling machines during lunch break at work and taking it online during the quarantine. When she was finally discovered and taken to court, it was revealed that she had started stealing from Travel and Cruise North East almost immediately after she started working there in 2017.
The addicted woman had been first taking numerous short-term loans, according to her lawyer, but then started stealing from the business by secretly appropriating refunds and sending them to her own bank account.
It is estimated that in two years, she managed to steal $628,598 through 522 transactions and an additional $40,636 by putting the cash on prepaid travel money cards in the names of clients.
Roberts’ fraud came crashing down when a client phoned Travel and Cruise North East to ask about a refund that never came. The gambling-addicted woman first tried to lie to her bosses and say she had accidentally sent the money to the wrong account. Despite her best efforts, an investigation by her bank soon uncovered the truth.
When Roberts was found out, she tried to bargain at first and repaid $22,500. She then pleaded to arrange to refund $250 each week. Despite Roberts’ best efforts to avoid clashing with the law, Travel and Cruise North East’s bosses called the police.
Roberts’ Addiction Caused Irreparable Damage to the Owners
Aware of her transgressions, Roberts pleaded guilty to the charges in court. She admitted that she feels ashamed of her lack of self-control and is sorry for the damages that she had caused.
However, Michael McInerney, the case’s judge, would have none of it. I’m certain that apology would be a lot better if she had $600,000 to go with it, but unfortunately, she hasn’t,” McInerney angrily commented.
The judge proceeded with a rant against the poker machines. He labeled them a scourge that drinks of the livelihoods of people. McInerney is downright appalled that they have even invaded the digital space.
“To have people able to use them online is really an abomination if ever I’ve heard of one,” the judge added. Because of Roberts’ fraud, the owners of Travel and Cruise North East, Kay Reid and her husband Bruce Reid, were forced to sell two of their homes in order to reimburse the clients. Sadly, one of the proprieties was an inheritance left behind by Mr Reid’s deceased mother, and it had a high sentimental value.
Additionally, they had to close three out of their four offices and limit the number of their employees.
Both of them were devastated by the betrayal of their own employee, according to Ms Reid. Although they managed to keep their business’ reputation by returning the money to all their clients, the family itself has now suffered great financial impact and even greater emotional damage.
“We are now deeply concerned and anxious,” Ms Reid said, concerned about the prospects of people avoiding Travel and Cruise North East because of what happened.
The business owners had to delay their retirement. Their plans had already suffered from the recent local bushfires and the global COVID-19 pandemic. They are now driven to the edge. Roberts now faces jail time with her sentence scheduled for September.