Law firm thief wants lighter sentence

2014-02-14 00:00

FORMER Pietermaritzburg conveyancing secretary Candida du Plessis wants the high court to reduce her effective seven-year jail sentence to one of less than five years’ imprisonment in terms of legislation that will allow a major part of the sentence to be converted to correctional supervision.

Judge Johann Ploos van Amstel and Acting Judge Thoba Poyo-Dlwati, have reserved judgment.

Du Plessis pleaded guilty in March 2012 to stealing R1,2 million from her former employer, Stowell & Company. The court found that she had performed a total of 343 dishonest transactions between July 2008 and July 2011.

She was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment of which three years was conditionally suspended by regional magistrate Jennifer Anthoo.

Du Plessis’s advocate, Gideon ScheltemaSC, said her conviction was based on facts that were accepted by the prosecutor at her trial, including the fact that Du Plessis was “sincerely remorseful for her actions”.

However, the prosecutor later led evidence in aggravation of sentence challenging Du Plessis’s statement that she was remorseful; that she’d succumbed to temptation only after realising over a period of years there was a lack of control in the conveyancing department; and that she had fully co-operated with Stowell & Company’s internal investigation.

Mitigating factors placed on record by the defence had included evidence by a psychologist, L .G. Holden, that Du Plessis had been subjected to a highly traumatic childhood and adolescence; that her case was “unique and exceptional”, that she was “not an organised or devious person but rather a person of poor planning ability and thoughtless financial impulsivity”; that she didn’t enrich herself in the long term; that she never mentally broke free from the “devastating effects of the first 25 years of her life”; and that she played an important part in the life of her four-year-old daughter.

Du Plessis was also found to have met the criteria for correctional supervision as a possible sentencing option.

In reply, state advocate Wendy Greef said state witnesses had not denied that there was a lack of supervision at that time at Stowell & Company, which facilitated the thefts.

She said however for a court to find that Du Plessis was not entirely to blame for her own dishonest conduct by deciding to exploit the weaknesses of the system would set a dangerous precedent.

“As it is South Africa is struggling with an epidemic of dishonest conduct in the form of widespread theft, fraud and corruption,” she said.

Greef said in many of the offences that come before courts daily, the perpetrators — especially public officials — exploit weaknesses in the system.

“Setting a precedent of this nature would only encourage even more criminals to abuse the system instead of getting out the much-needed message that dishonest crimes will not be tolerated,” she said.

Greef submitted the regional magistrate had given a “lengthy and well motivated” decision regarding sentence and took into account all relevant factors.

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