Prison sentence will be appealed
Theft of tools valued at $5,006 resulted in a nine-month prison sentence for Jamie Antonio Morales-Alvares, who pleaded guilty to the charge and was sentenced last week.
Magistrate Valdis Foldats said the general principle is that for offences involving a breach of trust, immediate imprisonment is inevitable except for small amounts or in exceptional circumstances.
The sentence is meant as a general deterrent and to mark publicly the gravity of the offence, he pointed out. In this case the amount was not small and the there were no exceptional circumstances. The magistrate did agree that the degree of trust Morales’ employer had in him was at a low level and different from situations in the financial industry.
Morales, 48, pleaded guilty to first stealing a pipe threader, valued at $1,949. He said he pawned it for $350 because he was in financial difficulties. He claimed he was being treated unfairly by his employer.
Other items he admitted taking from the company warehouse were a concrete coring drill, a generator, a power cord, straps and sealants. He said he took these items to do jobs on the side.
The pipe threader went missing in February 2011. A fellow employee saw it among items offered for sale and he informed police. When police went to the store, they were shown records that indicated Morales was the seller. He was arrested and admitted to the thefts, which had continued through June 2010.
The magistrate noted that Morales had been employed with the company almost two years and was considered capable and trustworthy.
Although he harboured ill feelings toward his employer, Morales agreed that what he did was unacceptable and he regretted his actions, taking full responsibility for them.
The magistrate chose to focus on the fact that Morales did recognise he had committed a breach of trust and said he would give him full credit for his guilty plea. However, he pointed out, financial difficulty is no excuse or defence for theft.
He listed the various factors generally considered in breach of trust cases, including effect of the crime on the victim.
In this case, the employer had called a staff meeting before Morales admitted what he had done. The employer had told the workers that “one among us is a thief.” The situation had an adverse effect on staff morale and level of productivity, he reported. When the perpetrator was identified, everyone was relieved – morale and productivity increased again.
The employer also expressed concern about the risks to a small business operator and what could come about from creating employment opportunities.
The magistrate also accepted that Morales was of previous good character, but he pointed out that it was this good character that had allowed him to attain a position of trust and thereby be able to commit the crime. He also indicated that there were numerous legal ways to handle a disagreement with an employer.
Morales gave immediate notice that he would appeal the prison sentence.