A woman who embezzled R1.4 million while in the employ of Bishops Diocesan College in Rondebosch, Cape Town, was jailed for six years on 65 counts of fraud.
Marlene Dirks-Connally (45) daughter of a priest, sobbed as she embraced her husband in the Bellville Specialised Commercial Crime Court, before being led out of the courtroom to the holding cells.
She appeared before Magistrate Sabrina Sonnenberg, who told her that there was “no excuse for what she had done”.
She said Dirks-Connally could have approached her father for counselling, but had failed to do so.
Dirks-Connally was a credit clerk at Bishops, and was responsible for ensuring that the school’s service providers were paid.
Sonnenberg said Dirks-Connally had created fictitious invoices, and had channelled the payments into her own bank account over a period of three years.
Dirks-Connally had heard “via the grapevine” how electronic systems could be manipulated, and financial pressures had led her to experiment with manipulation.
Sonnenberg added: “Why did she do this? Because she heard that it can be done. She then tried it, it worked and she became greedy.”
She said Bishops only became aware of the embezzlement when a service provider refunded an amount that had been overpaid.
The service provider informed the school of the repayment, and the school then launched an investigation to establish how and why the overpayment had occurred in the first place.
At that stage, an amount of R1 416 410 had already been embezzled, she said.
Sonnenberg said Dirks-Connally had executed her carefully planned scheme over a period of three years.
Prosecutor Derek Vogel told the court that Bishops was a famous private school, and that the staff and financial management were shocked and appalled that such a huge sum of money had been stolen “from under their noses”.
He said the school aimed at excellence in education, music and sport, not only for the rich but boasting 40 pupils from poorer communities who were talented in music and sport.
Because the embezzlement exceeded R500 000, Dirks-Connally qualified for the prescribed minimum sentence of 15 years for a first-time offender.
However, he listed circumstances that justified a less severe sentence, including that she had pleaded guilty and was a first-time offender.
Sonnenberg rejected as “too lenient” defence counsel Christie Casner’s suggestion of correctional supervision, involving a 10-month period of imprisonment, to then be released into house arrest.
She said a fine was also out of the question, as it would give would-be offenders the idea that they could buy themselves out of a prison sentence.
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