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Ministry manager gets 3 years for fraud

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 21/02/2017

<span style="font-size:13px;">A senior Ministry of Transport manager who defrauded the government department out of $726,000 has been handed a sentence of more than three years in jail.</span> © Getty A senior Ministry of Transport manager who defrauded the government department out of $726,000 has been handed a sentence of more than three years in jail. A former senior manager at the Ministry of Transport who defrauded the government department of more than $700,000 has been sentenced to more than three years in jail.

Joanne Harrison, 50, last year admitted to using fabricated invoices to fraudulently take $726,000 from Ministry accounts she controlled while working as a general manager.

Harrison had worked for the ministry from April 2011 until April 2016, when management became suspicious and launched an internal investigation before calling in the Serious Fraud Office.

Passing down a sentence of three years' and seven months' jail at the Manukau District Court on Tuesday, Judge Sanjay Patel said she had used taxpayer money to pay bills to three fictitious companies in order to disguise her theft.

He called the offending a "considerable" breach of trust and said the offending went on for more than three years.

The money had largely been spent on credit cards and a home loan, he said.

Judge Patel said Harrison had also been convicted for forging documents in 2007.

But he said she was also making efforts at rehabilitation, was receiving counselling in prison and had tried to access her KiwiSaver to pay back some of the money.

Lawyers for the Crown did not seek a reparation order, saying it wasn't clear how much money could be recovered.

Prosecutor Sarah Allen said Harrison had hampered efforts to recover assets by turning over part of one property she owned to her husband, Patrick Sharp.

The Investigation was launched last year while Harrison was in Canada, and she returned voluntarily to face the charges in August.

Her lawyer, Nathan Bourke, told the court Harrison was aware of a workplace investigation, but not a criminal one, when she left the country.

She had returned of her own accord and had given police her flight details, he said.

Harrison had hit "rock bottom" after her arrest, but had faced her time in prison thus far well, working as a unit librarian, Mr Bourke said.

SFO Director, Julie Read said: "The SFO gives a priority to cases concerning the loss of public money as this affects not only the government entity concerned but all New Zealanders.''

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