Theft fuelled gambling habit

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A Queenstown accountant yesterday admitted stealing up to $12,000 from the regional bowls association to fund his gambling habit.

Eric Thomas Lee, 74, also forged a signature on a financial statement of Central Otago Bowls to cover his tracks.

And he pocketed $465 from the till at the Queenstown Bowling Club, where he had been a member for 25 years.

Lee admitted three chargesĀ in the Queenstown District Court yesterday: theft by a person in a special relationship, forgery, and theft under $500.

The summary of facts states as treasurer and tournament secretary of Central Otago Bowling Inc, the governing body for 16 clubs, he was given the log-on and password to the electronic banking account.

The club switched to electronic banking in late October 2016.

Between October 25 and November 8 Lee transferred a total of $5500 in eight transactions.

“During a search of the defendant’s work office area, police located a handwritten and stamped receipt from Sky City Casino dated November 5, 2016 with the amount ‘$5500′ written on the docket,” the summary reads.

“The electronically transferred money … has been used by the defendant to fund his gambling habit.”

When spoken to by police on December 13, Lee admitted the offending, saying he had faced financial hardship after his marriage ended in 2012 and started gambling.

“[He] then took the opportunity to use his position within the club to take money.

“He estimated … he had misappropriated between $10,000 and $12,000 from the Central Otago Bowls Incorporation during this time.”

To cover his tracks, Lee forged the signature of an independent reviewer on the club’s financial statement for the financial year of 2014-15.

He was also observed taking cash from the till at the Queenstown Bowling Club between October 9 and November 27 last year.

Amounts varied between $10 and $85 for a total of $465 during the period of the police investigation. Lee told police IOUs were once accepted practice at the club and he had returned $50 to the float the next day on at least one occasion.

But he accepted the Queenstown Bowling Club Committee had specifically forbidden the practice.

Central Otago Bowls is the governing body for 16 clubs throughout Central Otago and Maniototo.

Lee was on the board intermittently for about 20 years and was secretary treasurer from 1996 to 2003.

He was appointed treasurer and tournament secretary in 2010 and held those positions until his arrest on November 29.

The representative charge of theft by a person in a special relationship covers January 1, 2012, to November 8 last year. It carries a maximum sentence of seven years’ imprisonment.

The forgery charge carries a 10 year maximum.

The summary states Lee spent “a large amount of his personal time” working at the Queenstown club, arranging tournaments and player draws, collecting money, arranging bowling club memorabilia and awards.

He was even given the task of emptying the honesty box.

He was employed as a part-time accountant for a Queenstown firm until his arrest.

Lee was remanded on bail by Judge John Strettell until March 20 for pre-sentence reports and for restorative justice to be explored.

Judge Strettell did not specifically tell Lee he was convicted, but there was no suggestion an application for a discharge without conviction would be made.

Otago Daily Times