Graft hits PMB’s attorneys

2012-06-25 00:00

THERE has been an alarming increase in fraud and theft committed by employees of law firms in Pietermaritzburg over the past 10 months.

This is according to evidence given by Jeremy Brink, a director of Shackleton Risk Management, a company which offers insurance to law firms nationwide. He said in that period five local firms had suffered financial losses totalling over R5 million due to this type of crime.

“I don’t know the reason for the sudden alarming prevalence of this type of offence in this region, specifically Pietermaritzburg, where we have had the most claims,” he added.

Brink was testifying before regional magistrate Jennifer Anthoo on Friday at the trial of another former legal secretary, Veronica le Roux (47), who pleaded guilty to 124 counts of fraud.

She admitted having defrauded her employers, Steenkamp, Weakly & Ngwane Incorporated and Tomlinson, Mnguni, James Incorporated of a total of R585 013,06.

Le Roux said in a statement read by her attorney, Subhash Maikoo, her duties included drafting requisitions for cheque and electronic fund transfer (EFT) payments, processing these and paying creditors. Her 2007 divorce had put her in a serious financial predicament and she became terribly depressed.

Le Roux said she began gambling in an attempt to alleviate her financial woes, as a result of which she got further and further into financial difficulties.

She’d realised that the people in charge did not verify the account numbers to which EFT payments were to be made.

In 2008 she began to misrepresent to her employers that payments were due to trust creditors, obtain authorisation for an EFT payment and pay the money into her own accounts, or into the account of her landlord to pay her rent. She stopped when she was caught out in August 2011.

Le Roux, who has two married daughters, said she is very remorseful. She is currently employed on the south coast, earning R4 500 per month, and offered to repay the stolen money in instalments of R2 000 per month.

Brink responded that this was the first time he’s heard that Le Roux had offered to pay back the money. In view of her situation, however, it was not realistic to expect she would be able to substantially repay her stolen gains.

“I think the chances of recovery are about zero,” he added.

He said he believes civil action is being instituted by the law firm to recover the stolen money.

His company had paid out R462 988,64 in terms of the insurance claim in this case, and no offer was made by anyone to repay them, he added.

Maikoo told the court that Le Roux accepts full responsibility for her actions.

He urged the court to be merciful and to consider sentencing options other than direct imprisonment, such as periodical imprisonment on weekends. This would enable Le Roux to continue working and be “part of society” during the week, give her a chance to repay the stolen money, and also satisfy society that she was being punished.

If she lost her job as a result of going to jail her chances of finding work when she came out were bleak, he added.

Anthoo granted Le Roux bail of R2 000 pending sentencing on July 6.

Earlier this month former conveyancing secretary Candida du Plessis was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment, of which three years were conditionally suspended, for stealing R1,2 million from Stowell & Company.

In that case the court ruled she did not appear to be remorseful and made no offer to repay the money she stole.

• ingrido@witness.co.za

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