On-line gambling led to theft

A senior manager at a local bank admitted stealing over $15,000 to support an addiction to on-line gambling.

Yolita Parchment pleaded guilty in Summary Court to 15 counts of theft from Fidelity Bank between January and March 2006. At that time, she was senior manager of customer service.

The matter was adjourned for a social inquiry report.

Acting Magistrate Valdis Foldats heard the facts and mitigation on 5 February and passed sentence on 12 February.

He said a term of immediate imprisonment was inevitable in breach of trust cases, except in very exceptional circumstances. He accepted the submissions of Defence Attorney Ailsa Williamson that in this case there were exceptional circumstances.

The sentence was 12 months imprisonment, suspended for two years, and 150 hours of community service.

Crown Counsel Kirsti-Ann Gunn told the court that the defendant stole the monies from accounts held by the bank and transferred them to her credit card. The total taken was CI$15,574.83.

The transactions were discovered and Parchment was spoken to. She handed over what was in effect a full confession.

She accepted full responsibility and said she what she did to support an addiction to on-line gambling.

An agreement was reached between her and the bank that her home mortgage would be extended so that the money would be repaid as part of that payment. The loss to the bank has not yet been repaid, but is secured by the mortgage, Mrs. Gunn explained.

She referred to a recent employee theft case in the Court of Appeal. That court had indicated that ‘exceptional circumstances’ are different in each case. Debt, financial difficulties and having children are not exceptional circumstances in and of themselves.

Ms Williamson said the exceptional circumstances in Parchment’s case could be seen in her psychological report. She had been suffering from an impulse control disorder that resulted in a great deal of difficulty if not a total inability to control her behaviour.

Pathologic gambling

The disorder was pathologic gambling, characterised by recurrent and maladaptive gambling behaviours.

Parchment has been seeing a counsellor since April 2006, Ms Williamson told the court. The defendant now has a bar on her computer that makes her unable to access on-line gambling sites. The bar was obtained through an agency called GamCare and cannot be taken off by the defendant. The only way she could have access to such sites now would be to get a new computer.

‘She has taken every possible step to ensure there is no recurrence,’ Ms Williamson said.

She also cited Parchment’s letter to her employer, early plea and a letter written by the president of Fidelity Bank.

In it, he described Parchment in glowing terms, the attorney said. It was also clear from his letter that he had called Parchment in, she had her letter ready and it was found to be accurate in the details she gave of her thefts.

No police investigation was necessary, no other employee came under suspicion and public confidence was not affected because the missing sums were found so quickly. People would know that financial institutions do keep good records and offences do not go undetected, Ms Williamson said.

The magistrate asked if on-line gambling was a problem on this island. Ms Williamson said the psychologist was aware of other cases in the US, but she did not believe he had treated any one else on island. ‘But he views it as an addiction as much as alcohol or drugs,’ she said.

In his reasons for sentence, the magistrate said the unchallenged evidence before him was that the thefts were committed while Parchment was suffering from a psychological disorder.

He referred to factors considered in breach of trust cases and how they applied to this defendant.

As to quality and degree of trust, she held a privileged and trusted position in the bank. This was an aggravating factor.

The period over which the offences occurred was two months. It was not a sophisticated scheme over a long period; neither was it a one-off theft. He considered this to be a neutral factor.

As to the use to which the money was put, there was no evidence of any personal profit or extravagant lifestyle. ‘The funds were of no benefit to anyone other than the operators of insidious on-line gambling sites. The funds were not fuelling fun-filled gambling sprees in Las Vegas; rather, the dynamic was much darker,’ he said.

The next factor was the effect on the victim. The magistrate said the bank suffered financial loss and no doubt commercial embarrassment. But arrangements had been made to compensate the bank fully – a significant mitigating factor.

The commercial embarrassment was intangible. But the bank president had written that he did not believe Cayman society would be well served by having the defendant incarcerated. Crown Counsel had admitted it was unusual to see such a personal reference. This was also significant mitigation.

Offence impact

The magistrate next considered the impact of the offence on the community. He said the concern is often raised that public confidence is undermined when an offender is not sentenced to prison for a particular type of crime.

But the entire criminal process must be considered, he said. The community’s confidence is maintained when there is certainty that a crime will be detected, that the person who committed the crime will be apprehended, that a conviction will be obtained after a fair trial or an informed guilty plea, that an appropriate sentence will be imposed, tailored to the specific offender and the specific offence.

This had been a model case in terms of the criminal justice process, the magistrate said. The defendant was caught, she confessed, she gave details of her crime, she accepted her responsibility for her actions without the need for a trial and she has compensated the victim.

He trusted that people fully informed would have confidence that justice had been done.

He said it was to Parchment’s credit that she never attempted to shift blame to fellow employees.

The effect on her was that she now was a convicted thief. But it appeared that her addictive behaviour had been interrupted; she has since been in counselling.

Her new employer was commended for willingness to hire her. The magistrate quoted from the employer’s letter, which stated that they were strong believers in the value of community service for those who had erred and in the past they had restructured an employee’s work hours to ensure that this societal debt was fulfilled.

Pullout:

‘The funds were of no benefit to anyone other than the operators of insidious on-line gambling sites. The funds were not fuelling fun-filled gambling sprees in Las Vegas; rather, the dynamic was much darker.’

– Crown Counsel Kirsti- Acting Magistrate Valdis Foldats

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