A fruit shop owner has told of the horror of finding out a man she shared grandchildren with had committed an $18,000 burglary at her family business.
Michael Debono, 54, of Marlee Court, Warrnambool, was sentenced to 14 months' jail with a non-parole period of eight months after a hearing in the Warrnambool Magistrates Court on Thursday.
He was found guilty of burglary and theft last month following a two-day contested hearing. The charges relate to the theft of a 100-kilogram safe, $17,000 cash, a wedding ring, ammunition and numerous documents from Warrnambool's King Cole Fruit Supply on December 28, 2016.
Debono's son worked at King Cole Fruit Supply and was the son-in-law of the owners.
In a victim impact statement read by business owner Natalie Serra, she said finding out her daughter's father-in-law had committed the burglary had an overwhelming impact on the whole family.
She said she couldn't believe she shared grandchildren with the offender and that her oldest grandson was named after him.
She said the burglary left her feeling extremely violated and anxious and she had trouble sleeping.
Lawyer Angela Sharpley urged Magistrate Ann McGarvie to consider a community corrections order rather than jail. She said Debono had a limited criminal history and was supported by his wife and children.
She said there was a substantial delay in sentencing which had caused Debono anxiety.
But police prosecutor Leading Senior Constable Kevin Mullins said the delay was self-inflicted. He said Debono's decision to contest the charges forced the victims to give evidence in court.
He said although Debono's criminal history was sparse, it involved dishonesty-related offences.
"This particular offending would put someone in jeopardy of prison even if they had no priors at all," he said.
Debono immediately appealed against both the sentence and the conviction. He was released on appeal bail and will appear in court again on May 14.
Magistrate Ann McGarvie said Debono was observed scoping out the business in the days before the burglary and his DNA was located on plastic bags found inside the safe, which was found dumped in Warrnambool's Merri River in January, 2017.
The safe was covered in towels and rope and, due to its weight, required a tow truck to be removed.
The victim's passports, as well as numerous important documents, had been wrapped in plastic bags and placed inside the safe.
The cash, wedding ring and ammunition were never recovered.
A search warrant executed at Debono's home revealed he was using a mobile phone registered to a fake name and address.
The phone was used to call the owner of a white utility used in the burglary. That vehicle was observed by police parked outside Debono's home. No charges have been laid against the owner of the vehicle.
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