The former general cashier at The Ritz-Carlton resort was sentenced on Friday to 14 months’ imprisonment for thefts totaling $13,397 over a three-month period last year.
Narine Hunter, 55, pleaded guilty in January. Sentencing was adjourned so that the court could obtain a social inquiry report and victim impact report.
Hunter was the general cashier at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman for over eight years and as such managed the daily intakes from the hotel’s various facilities, such as restaurants and bars. She was the only one who had the full combination to the main cash vault, the court heard. Two other people had half of the combination, so both would have needed to be present to access the vault.
Hunter on a daily basis conducted an unwitnessed audit of the vault contents. On July 27, 2016, she conducted her last audit because she was going on vacation for one month. Her access code was changed to give control of the vault to the person taking her place. It was at that stage that a discrepancy was found, Crown counsel Greg Walcolm had told the court earlier.
During an internal investigation, Hunter admitted taking the missing funds in small amounts over a period of time.
At the sentencing hearing on Friday, Magistrate Valdis Foldats considered mitigating factors put forward by defense attorney Crister Brady, along with character references that described Hunter as educated and responsible, reliable and hard-working, “the most honest person that I have ever met.”
The magistrate quoted from the social inquiry report, which explained that Hunter and her husband divorced about two years ago. This had a “major financial effect on her and she was adjusting to paying all the expenses on her own.” She was struggling to make ends meet and “in a difficult financial situation as she was three months in arrears of her mortgage and facing foreclosure …. She was under enormous pressure and folded under the financial pressure.”
The magistrate said financial pressure is an issue many people have to deal with. “Turning to crime to lessen one’s burden cannot be condoned,” he said.
The magistrate found that although Hunter’s thefts were planned and the hotel records were manipulated, the offending was not very sophisticated. It was taking cash and altering figures. However, he pointed out, the hotel’s cash-handling procedures reflected the high degree of trust in Hunter.
The level of harm, in terms of cash, was at the low end of the sentencing category that ranges between 10,000 and 100,000 British pounds. But the magistrate said he also had to consider whether there was significant additional harm.
He found there were three such factors. First, there was a high level of inconvenience to staff and others, who had to work overtime and view hours of CCTV footage. The hotel had to bring in an investigator. There was emotional distress to Hunter’s co-workers, some of whom had treated her like a mother figure, and some who felt that because of her actions all employees became suspects.
The magistrate referred to the hotel management’s “fair-minded and compassionate” comment – “We don’t want to see [the defendant] hurt and we know she has a son that we wouldn’t want to see suffer.”
The maximum sentence for theft in Cayman is 10 years. The magistrate arrived at an initial starting point of 34 months.
Given the amount of money stolen, he reduced the starting point to 24 months. The hotel had expressed concern that previous publicity about the incident may have affected its reputation internationally.
The magistrate quoted from Cayman’s sentencing guidelines – “Some offenses cause harm to the community at large (instead of or as well to an individual victim) … This may be particularly relevant where the offense has a potential impact on the tourist or financial services industries of the Islands …. ”
Taking into account Hunter’s remorse, cooperation with the investigation and admission of responsibility, the magistrate reduced his starting point from 24 months to 21 months. He gave her full credit for her guilty plea, a one-third deduction that resulted in a prison term of 14 months.
“The defendant is now a convicted thief; that is part of the personal price she must pay or her crime. The defendant has lost her reputation and her job, her family relations are in turmoil, she will have difficulty finding similar employment in the future and no doubt incarceration will be a shock to her,” the magistrate said.
Mr. Brady had urged him to consider that non-custodial options could satisfy the public interest, but the magistrate did not agree. “A term of immediate imprisonment is necessary to ensure that individuals, particularly those in the tourism industry, who may be inclined to commit similar offenses are deterred and to mark publicly the gravity of this type of behavior,” he said.
He did not order compensation because Hunter could not pay it. If the hotel chose, he said, civil proceedings could be brought against the defendant.