Seven years for law firm thief

2012-06-02 00:00

TEARS streamed down the face of former Pietermaritzburg conveyancing secretary Candida du Plessis (40) when she was handed an effective seven-year jail sentence yesterday for stealing R1,2 million from her former employer, Stowell & Company.

A further three years’ imprisonment was conditionally suspended for five years.

Du Plessis pleaded guilty in March this year and admitted she stole the money continuously over three years from July 2008 to July 2011.

The court found she had performed a total of 343 separate “dishonest transactions”.

Regional Court magistrate Jennifer Anthoo said she had carefully weighed up all sentencing options, including possible correctional supervision as proposed by Du Plessis’s psychologist, but found the only appropriate sentence to be imprisonment.

She told Du Plessis that society was “sick and tired of dishonest people walking free, who show no respect for other people’s property”.

Anthoo took into account the prevalence of the offence, and evidence about the effect it had on the entire company and its directors who ultimately were held liable. One director had suffered a heart attack.

On the other hand, Anthoo said she also gave due regard to Du Plessis’s personal circumstances, which she described as “exceptional”.

The magistrate provided detailed reasons for finding that Du Plessis’s young child would be well cared for during her incarceration, by her ex-husband.

In terms of an earlier court ruling, the testimony of Du Plessis’s psychologist was heard in camera and the court barred publication thereof.

Anthoo told Du Plessis, without going into detail, that she accepted that she had had a “traumatic childhood and past”, which resulted in her becoming financially reckless and caused her to take out loans with loan sharks after frittering away her earnings.

After meeting her husband, an attorney, she had been given another chance to make good.

Anthoo said evidence was led that Du Plessis was of above average intelligence, and this was also evident in the way she had carried out the thefts, operating in a “fraudulent and devious manner”.

She said the psychologist portrayed Du Plessis as a type of “Robin Hood”, taking from her employer to give money to the needy.

Anthoo noted, however, that Du Plessis also used the money to pay off her loans and her own accounts, and said not a cent could be properly accounted for.

Anthoo said the fact that Du Plessis exploited loopholes in her law firm’s systems and abused her position of trust, was aggravating, not mitigating.

She had also shown no real remorse, and did not offer to repay the stolen money.

Instead she had withdrawn her offer to cede her pension to the company, and opposed sequestration proceedings.

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