Woman stole over $10,000 in phone credits

Saying she could not fathom the need to make over $10,000 worth of phone calls in five months, Chief Magistrate Margaret Ramsay-Hale passed a sentence of 18 months for theft of phone credits.

Anna Lorelie Mojica, 26, pleaded guilty in December to stealing the phone credits from her place of employment, which sold ‘top ups’ for cell phones. The thefts took place between January and May 2008.

Sentencing took place last week after Defence Attorney John Furniss spoke in mitigation for Mojica. He said her father in the Philippines was ill and she was phoning home to check on him.

Crown Counsel Kirsty-Ann Gunn told the court that Mojica worked at a gas station where customers could pay cash to get credit for their phone numbers.

She said businesses that provide this service purchase credit from the phone company. When credit is sold, the amount is deducted from the business’ account with the phone company.

Sale of phone credit is done via a special machine for which each employee must enter his or her personal code number before entering information for the transaction. Each employee’s number is meant to be kept confidential.

In this case, Mojica admitted using the personal codes of co-workers to top up numbers. Doing so would move suspicion away from Mojica in the event the credit theft was discovered, Mrs. Gunn said.

The thefts represented a real loss to the employer of $10,848.

The matter was discovered when a supervisor observed what he considered to be unusual behaviour by Mojica while she was using the phone credit unit.

Mr. Furniss said Mojica admitted her offences the moment she was approached.

He explained that she had worked for her employer nearly 1½ years and was earning $600 to $900 every two weeks. Her rent was not cheap even though she was sharing quarters with others. She was sending money back to the Philippines for her father’s medical expenses and to an agent who had had helped her obtain a job here.

The attorney said she had no assets and had been assisted by friends while waiting for this matter to come to court. She was willing to sign over her pension fund, but that was only about $1,000 because contributions are not deducted the first nine months of employment.

In passing sentence, the magistrate said offences against employers are regarded as breaches of trust.

‘Your employer put you in charge of this machinery for phone credits. Using the system to enrich yourself by giving yourself phone credits without paying was a breach of trust…. Unhappily, breaches of trust are prevalent in this jurisdiction and that, too, causes the court to think that a deterrent sentence of custody is almost always inevitable,’ she said.

Not only had Mojica stolen from her employer, she had also put fellow employees at risk of losing their jobs. Given the planning and method involved and the period over which the thefts occurred, the starting point for sentence was 21 months, the magistrate said.

She discounted that term to 18 months because of the guilty plea, saying she took into account Mojica’s admissions, which saved her co-workers the embarrassment of being arrested.

Making restitution would not influence the court to reduce the sentence by any great amount: ‘It is something you are duty-bound to do.’

Wanting to phone home was not an exceptional circumstance, she pointed out. Mojica had put her own desires above her obligations to her employer.

The magistrate ordered compensation in the sum of US$1,000, which is in the defendant’s pension account and advised of the right to appeal.