The owner of a Bushfield construction company says his daughter-in-law broke his family and destroyed the integrity of his business when she misappropriated almost $30,000 to buy luxury goods.
Graeme Rodger, who owns Rodger Construction, read his victim impact statement to the Warrnambool Magistrates Court on Friday, August 18, as his estranged daughter-in-law Emma Smith, 34, pleaded guilty to obtaining property by deception and unauthorised computer impairment.
She was ordered to do 250 hours of unpaid community work as part of a correction order that will run for 12 months.
The Bushfield woman, who is married to Graeme's son and former Rodger Construction director Jason Rodger, was employed at the business for more than a decade, first as office clerk then as office manager and bookkeeper.
The court was told she had full access to the company's bank accounts and computer systems.
Court documents revealed Smith misappropriated $29,822.27 in corporate funds to buy luxury clothing, holidays and other items.
Her crimes were discovered on February 11, 2020, when an unreasonable amount of purchases were found to be made on a business credit card in the name of Jason Rodger, as well as loan account funds hidden in business expenditure accounts.
Smith was approached by the family and denied any wrongdoing but said if there was an error she would fix it.
She altered six months of transactions in the system the following day.
But an internal investigation uncovered Smith had used four corporate credit cards without properly recording purchases from Gucci, Country Road, Harvey Norman and other retail stores, as well as payments for pet insurance and holidays.
She also made hundreds of online purchases, which included extravagant clothes and other personal items that were delivered to the business address.
Both her work and personal emails were used to facilitate the purchases.
Mr Rodger told the court he was in disbelief his daughter-in-law had set up a "path of destruction that destroyed the things in my life that I value the most" - his business, which he founded in 1967, and his beloved family.
Previously retired, Mr Rodger said the crimes forced him to return to work for up to 12 hours a day.
Court documents show Smith was also caught deleting her brother's employment file, just days after he quit the business over a pay dispute, and around the same time he was preparing a Fair Work claim.
Mr Rodger said his son and Smith also filed Fair Work cases against the company, all of which were dismissed but caused a significant emotional toll on the family.
He said the events that unfolded turned the once happy and strong fabric of his family upside down.
"Worst of all, my wife and I lost our only son and our daughters lost a brother," he said.
Mr Rodger's daughters spoke of putting their lives on hold to support their mother and father, leading them to neglect their own lives, and the pain of losing their brother who had defended Smith's innocence.
They said Smith accused their family of fabricating the crimes for financial gain, leaving them hurt and angry.
A police raid at her house in September 2021 uncovered Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Seed-branded bags and purses, as well as an Apple iPhone and other items.
She also pleaded guilty to using a carriage service to menace after calling an employee and threatening to disclose personal information.
That employee told the court the offending left her "physically scared" for her safety.
Smith was convicted and fined $150 for that offending.
Barrister Dermot Dann KC, representing Smith, said she suffered ill mental health, had no prior criminal history and was remorseful.
He said while nothing could excuse the "end product of (Smith's) offending," she didn't understand at the time how unlawful her behaviour was.
The court heard Smith's husband had repaid the misappropriated funds.
Warrnambool police Detective Senior Constable Richard Hughes, who investigated the case, told The Standard the victims were "very much relieved" it was over after several years of waiting for the matter to reach court.
"There's no truer saying than 'every contact leaves a trace' whether it's electronic or otherwise," he said.
The detective said the 12-month-long investigation was "painstaking but rewarding".
"It was a gruelling process backtracking all of the online transactions made with the company credit cards but I was greatly assisted by eBay and PayPal in the United States," he said.
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