Ten months for employee theft

Young woman stole more than $32,000 in 13 months

Desiree Daniella Brown, 23, was sentenced on Wednesday to 10 months imprisonment after pleading guilty to 13 charges of theft from her employer, the owner of a small retail business.

The thefts from Office Worx occurred from December 2010 through December 2011 and ranged from $937.81 in February to $6,049.78 in August. The total amount stolen was $32,665.12.

Magistrate Kirsty-Ann Gunn said she was not ordering Brown to pay compensation because she had to consider Brown’s resources and prospects of meeting such an order. Crown Counsel Michael Snape had conceded the defendant had no funds.

The magistrate concluded that any order to pay the money back would set Brown up to fail and any term of imprisonment in lieu of failure to pay would simply act as an additional penalty.

She said she made this ruling although the court was sympathetic to the business owner who had lost this money through no fault of his own.

Earlier she had asked what was the effect of the offending on the owner. Mr. Snape said if he had dealt with the file earlier, there would have been a victim impact statement. What he could say was that the annual operating budget was in the range of $240,000. The theft was over 13 per cent of that amount.

Defence attorney Richard Barton accepted that Brown had been in a position of trust. Employed as accounts clerk, she occasionally assumed other duties. She worked with the firm for two years before the thefts started.

“She assisted herself to cash that was available, which she had responsibility to deposit,” he said, calling the thefts unsophisticated. “She was the only one in accounting, so that made it very easy to identify her” when an audit was done, Mr. Barton pointed out. No other employees were investigated, he added.

Brown confessed her wrongdoing after a third interview with police and she entered guilty pleas in court in March this year.

Mr. Barton said his client used the stolen money largely to pay bills. He explained that she earned $350 to $400 per week and her expenditures included a car loan payment of $420 per month, $600 for food, $150 for household expenses and $50 for gas. She also had medical expenses and a credit card balance she was attempting to clear.

The attorney detailed difficulties Brown experienced around the time of the birth of her child in January 2011; these included the fact that the grandmother who had helped raise her was diagnosed with a terminal illness.

He said Brown had had a happy childhood, although there was no father figure around for her; with no assistance from the father of her own child, she buckled under the pressure. She had tried to borrow money, but was unsuccessful.

Mr. Barton said Brown was ashamed of her actions and apologetic to her victim. She now had to face the loss of her good name and the fact that someday she will have to explain her offending to her child.

Both Mr. Snape and Mr. Barton discussed sentencing guidelines and precedents, especially two UK cases, Barrick from 1985 and Clarke from 1998. Barrick set out the various factors considered as aggravating or mitigating, including the offender’s position; the period of offending; the effect on the victim, co-workers and the public; the use to which the money was put. It also set out sentencing ranges based on the amount of money stolen. Prison was inevitable unless the amount of money was small or there was some exceptional circumstance.

The case of Clarke 13 years later revised sentencing ranges because of inflation. Those ranges are still quoted today: For an amount not small to 17,500 pounds, a short sentence up to 18 months. For an amount between 17,500 and 100,000 pounds, two to three years. For 100,000 to 250,000 pounds, three to four years. For 250,000 to 500,000 pounds, five to nine years. In excess of one million pounds, 10 years or more.

Recent cases in Cayman have raised the issues of inflation since 1998 and the conversion of British pounds to Cayman currency.

The magistrate said the amount stolen put Brown’s sentence in the range of 18 months to two years. Given the level of trust placed in her by her employer and the impact of the thefts on the business, the sentence would have been 21 months after trial.

Because of her cooperation and guilty pleas, she was given maximum consideration – a discount of one-third, resulting in a sentence of 14 months.

Continuing, the magistrate said Brown was of previous good character, a single parent and sole provider for her child. Separation from her child and the difficulties this will create was not an exceptional circumstance, but it was a mitigating factor. The magistrate also considered Brown’s inability to support her family during her grandmother’s illness.

Those factors, she said, brought the sentence down to 10 months.