SPCA fraudster stole to fund her new man

2017-07-20 13:55
In the dock, self-confessed SPCA fraudster Teresa Fernandez discusses her plea with her attorney, Jacques Botha, during a brief adjournment at the regional court on Wednesday.

In the dock, self-confessed SPCA fraudster Teresa Fernandez discusses her plea with her attorney, Jacques Botha, during a brief adjournment at the regional court on Wednesday. (Ingrid Oellermann)

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Glamorous fraudster Teresa Fernandez (47) stole R300 000 worth of donations intended for the Umgeni SPCA, in order to look after the man in her life and his daughter as well as to “fund her lifestyle”.

This emerged from a written plea agreement finalised in the regional court between Fernandez — represented by attorney Jacques Botha — and the state on Wednesday.

In terms of the sentencing agreement Fernandez repaid the stolen money in full. In addition she received a wholly suspended five-year jail sentence, and has to undergo three years under correctional supervision, including house arrest.

Chairperson of the Umgeni SPCA, Dave Taylor, who attended the trial with staffer Dudu Abrahams told TheWitness the SPCA was satisfied with the outcome.

“We thank our team including Norman Abrahams who held a watching brief to ensure justice was done and most importantly that we got our money back,” said Taylor.

He also thanked regular SPCA donor Karin Vickers, whose funds were stolen by Fernandez, and said the SPCA was especially grateful that she had again pledged the funds that were repaid by Fernandez, to the SPCA.

Vickers, who was also at court, said she was glad the money was finally going to the SPCA where it was “meant to go all along”.

Asked by the court why she was pleading guilty, Fernandez replied: “Because I did the crimes”.

She explained further that she had misappropriated funds that were meant for the SPCA — her employer at the time — by diverting them to her own bank account.

“I used the money to look after the people who were staying with me and I lived beyond my means,” she said.

Fernandez admitted she was “well aware” at the time that what she was doing was a crime but said she had “intended wholeheartedly to pay it back”. “I am not proud of it … I am ashamed and remorseful and I will never do it again,” she declared.

Fernandez admitted in her plea that she stole various donations totalling R300 000 that were made by Karin Vickers and were intended to help suffering animals at Umgeni SPCA.

According to her statement Fernandez’s job involved having to attend fund­raising events and solicit funds on behalf of the SPCA.

She had earned a “modest” salary, which was outstripped by her increasing lifestyle expenses “by a considerable margin”.

By early 2016, Fernandez had become involved in a relationship with Lee Bromley, who was unemployed at the time and who took up residence with her together with his daughter.

According to the statement Bromley’s unemployment put additional financial strain on Fernandez.

“It rapidly became evident that the accused [Fernandez] was unable to support her lifestyle, much less, Bromley and his teenage daughter at the same time,” the plea reads.

Fernandez admitted that she took donations made to the SPCA by Vickers on various occasions between March 2015 and April 2016.

“These payments took place with the knowledge, approval and assistance of ... Bromley who was well aware that he was also benefiting,” the plea said.

Mitigating factors presented by the defence included the fact that Fernandez was remorseful and in fact briefed an attorney to attend to the matter before she left South Africa.

“Prior to her departure from South Africa the accused communicated with David Taylor of Howick SPCA concerning the quantum of funds misappropriated with the intention of ultimately undertaking repayment.”

According to the plea, when Fernandez became aware of the “extensive adverse social media publicity concerning her crimes, she had borrowed money to return to South Africa to deal with the matter”.

The statement said that Fernandez “of her own volition” arranged to meet with Taylor concerning repayment of the money. She was summarily arrested on her return to the country.

She had thereafter pleaded guilty “at the earliest opportunity” and began to try to repay the stolen money. The funds were repaid in full from a family trust on Tuesday.

According to her plea the “truly horrific” three weeks Fernandez spent in Westville prison following her arrest were life changing and resulted in her doing an “about turn in respect of her outlook on life” and she has since adopted a religious lifestyle.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg

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