Woman jailed for workplace theft

It is essential to the economy that the public has confidence in its financial institutions, Justice Alex Henderson said in sentencing Vanessa Hunter to one year in prison.

A jury found Hunter guilty of stealing over $31,000 from her employer, British Caymanian Insurance in Cayman Brac. The trial took place in April 2008, but sentencing was delayed after the Crown asked for a confiscation of assets order.

Confiscation proceedings must be concluded before sentencing. Justice Henderson formally imposed sentence last week Monday after hearing confiscation arguments the previous Friday.

The thefts occurred between March and August of 2003. The matter first came before the courts in April 2006.

Crown Counsel Kirsty-Ann Gunn and Defence Attorney Marlene Smith agreed that Hunter’s only asset was a house in Cayman Brac.

Ms Smith advised the court that Hunter had brought a cheque for $5,000 and was asking a further two years to make payment.

The judge asked why the house wasn’t simply seized and sold to satisfy the indebtedness. He saw no particular reason why Hunter should be able to keep the asset. ‘I would think confiscation means confiscation and not a payment plan,’ he observed.

Ms Smith pleaded that this conviction and sentence would impede Hunter the rest of her life in terms of employment and what she would be able to acquire. She had lived in the house, but then moved in with her mother.

The judge agreed to set a time limit of two years.

Moving to sentence, he noted that a social inquiry report said Hunter maintained her innocence.

Mrs. Gunn said Hunter was Brit-Cay’s first representative in Cayman Brac. Later a second employee was brought into assist. Payments were received from clients for insurance premiums and these were supposed to be deposited daily, with the paperwork sent to Grand Cayman.

She said Hunter took cash and delayed deposits until cheques were received in similar amounts. Deposits ceased in July and August, 2003. The head office sent someone over to check and Hunter denied any wrongdoing. She pointed blame at her colleague in the office.

That colleague gave evidence during Hunter’s trial and was cross-examined by the defence attorney at the time.

Ms Smith spoke in mitigation. She said Hunter had become almost a pariah in her community. Now 28, she had been unable to get a job after Brit-Cay, so she trained as a nursing assistant. She now helped with the care of elderly persons, providing a much needed service.

The attorney accepted there was a degree of trust involved in Hunter’s position with Brit-Cay, as she had manned the office her self for some two years before the second employee came.

In passing sentence, the judge said the company suffered from a lack of checks and balances in its accounting system and for a considerable time Hunter had been able to misappropriate funds without discovery.

In denying guilt, Hunter had blamed an innocent co-worker and that was an aggravating feature.

On the other hand, she had made considerable strides in her own rehabilitation and he took this into account along with her family circumstances. But there were no exceptional circumstances that would allow any sentence other than imprisonment.

Justice Henderson said the Crown was at liberty to apply for a review of the confiscation order.

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