Employee guilty of stealing jewellery

Willie Orwin McLaughlin, a Honduran national, was sentenced to 15 months imprisonment this week for stealing jewellery from the store he worked in.

McLaughlin, 28, had pleaded not guilty to the theft of items recovered from him in December 2005 and from his home in February 2006.

After trial, Magistrate Margaret Ramsay-Hale found him guilty and said his explanations for having the items were bizarre and fantastic.

Defence Attorney James Austin-Smith said that McLaughlin, a man of excellent references and previous good character, had already spent seven months and 10 days in custody. He asked what could be achieved by keeping him in custody any longer.

All of the jewellery McLaughlin had been charged with stealing had been recovered.

Mr. Austin-Smith referred to a recent sentence passed by Chief Justice Anthony Smellie in a case of employee theft. That defendant, who had a previous conviction, was given community service and ordered to pay restitution (Caymanian Compass, 21 August).

The magistrate said the Chief Justice was not laying down any principle of sentencing; he was exercising discretion, which guidelines have never taken away. Nothing has changed; every court comes to its decision based on the facts before it.

The value of a custodial sentence for McLaughlin was in deterring others from breaching employer trust because such crimes strike at Cayman’s economy.

During the trial, the court heard about three quantities of jewellery.

On 21 December 2005, McLaughlin was arrested after carrying jewellery outside the premises of London Jewellers in the Anchorage Centre. He was wearing a tie clip from the store, had two silver rings in his pocket and a gold chain and pendant in a gift-wrapped box. Total value of the items was US$1,002.90.

His explanation for the tie clip was that employees wore jewellery in the store to show it off for customers. He said he had the rings because he had taken them to another employee to see if they could be sized for a customer who had said she was coming back.

The chain and pendant, he said, were for a gift exchange at work. He was taking them to the head office during his lunch hour to see what discount he could get; he could not tell his store manager because the present was for her.

He said ordinarily he could have just phoned the head office with the item’s tag number to get the discount, but that day he could not get through by phone. He said he was going to the office in person and taking the jewellery in case they had to see it.

After his arrest police searched his residence and found a pouch with jewellery. McLaughlin said he had been arranging items for display the previous week when a clerk from another store came in to close the store that day. That clerk locked the safe, so McLaughlin decided to take the items home for safe keeping.

He said he intended to take them back to work the next morning, but he didn’t because they were missing their tags and that would mean trouble. He intended to find out the purchase numbers and make new tags.

In February 2006, as a result of information received, police went to McLaughlin’s home and found a quantity of jewellery and watches valued at US$21,842.

The defendant told the court he had these items because his new manager had asked him to keep them during a period of stock taking in September or October 2005. Her plot was to get the previous manager blamed for the shortage and then be fired.

McLaughlin said the manager never explained the plan for getting the jewellery back into the store and nothing happened until he was arrested.

He denied lying to police about the jewellery, but acknowledged he did not tell everything. He said he couldn’t until he knew what he was being accused of.

In giving her verdict, the magistrate said she found his evidence of a plot to be incredible. His other explanations were convoluted and explained nothing at all. In contrast, she accepted the store manager as a witness of truth who appeared forthright and honest.

Mr. Austin-Smith had argued that McLaughlin never meant to permanently deprive the company of the jewellery. The US$21,842 worth of jewellery was not sold nor was it disposed of after the defendant’s arrest.

If the Crown’s case were accepted, it would be a pointless crime committed in an incompetent manner by a stupid person, he summarised.

The magistrate accepted that McLaughlin was not stupid, but wondered why he was unable to see what the consequences of his actions would be.

She took into account his excellent reference from the prison, where he was teaching inmates computer technology and Spanish. She also considered McLaughlin’s family difficulties, but pointed out that he had brought these on himself.

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