Club hurting over betrayal

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Bowls bigwigs are bemused a trusted Queenstown club member who stole $12,000 wasn’t banged up.

Queenstown accountant Eric Lee, 74, was sentenced to four months’ home detention last week and ordered to pay back the money.

Judge Mark Callaghan said eight months’ imprisonment was an appropriate term for the level of offending.

But he said being jailed would be wrong for a man of Lee’s age who’s never been in trouble before.

Queenstown Bowls Club president Wayne Thompson says: “He should have gone to prison – where’s the deterrent? There’s no deterrent.

“But that’s my personal view, not the club’s. The club wants to move on.”

Lee was convicted of stealing $465 in cash from the Queenstown club between October and November last year.

He’d been a member and office holder at the club for 25 years. Other members set up spy cameras to catch him in the act.

He also nicked $12,000 from Central Otago Bowling between 2012 and 2016. And he forged a signature on an annual financial audit to cover his tracks.

Lee told cops he had a gambling problem.

Regional bowls association president Angela Wilson says the bowls community has been rocked by the betrayal of trust.

“I personally found the judge’s comments surprising. However, he knows the law better than I do so who am I to question it?”

Wilson says the reparation, which Lee has already made available, will help the association recover financially but members are hurting.

“They’re trying to put it behind them and get on with their bowls.

“It’s very difficult for them to talk about because he was a well-liked and trusted member.”

Thompson says Lee’s also missed at the Queenstown club but forgiveness is hard.

“If he’d have come clean, you can forgive.

“I read out his apology at the club the other night but it was just absolutely nothing – a 12-year-old could have written it.”

The club members are now focused on the new bowling green being laid, Thompson says.

Somewhat ironically, $5000 of the $170,000 cost has been funded by the SkyCity Queenstown Community Trust.

Officers had found a receipt for $5500 from SkyCity Casino in Lee’s office.

The trust allocates grants independently from the casino.

Lee, a part-time consultant accountant for resort firm Crowe Horwath until his arrest in December, has been suspended on an interim basis by the New Zealand Institute of Chartered Accountants.

paul.taylor@scene.co.nz