Two professionals in the same state have separately faced court over substantial thefts of client funds, with one jailed for more than seven years after funds were allegedly used to support her husband’s business.
According to an ABC report, Helen Marie Tolson — who worked for her father’s firm, Tolson & Co — took $1.96 million from trust accounts between September 2013 and August 2017, with the money subsequently used to pay off personal debts, purchase two cars and support a business run by her husband.
It was reported that almost $978,000 was taken from the trust account of “an elderly woman in a nursing home”, and most of the rest of the money was “stolen from the estate of a deceased woman”.
The District Court of Western Australia heard that she then falsified records to try to conceal her conduct.
Ms Tolson’s counsel proclaimed that she “fully understood the gravity of what she had done”, and that actions such as falsification of records were done to “stave off the inevitable”.
Counsel argued that the conduct was undertaken in order to address family issues.
WA state prosecutor Peter Phillips said that the offences were “some of the worst” that a lawyer could commit, describing them as a “horrific breach of trust”.
District Court Judge Belinda Lonsdale accepted that Ms Tolson was “deeply ashamed and remorseful”, and noted it appeared that she had been motivated by a desire to ease the financial pressures on her family.
However, the judge also determined that there was “an element of greed” involved, on the basis that some of the stolen funds were used for personal benefit.
Exacerbating the conduct was the fact that some of the stolen funds belonged to an elderly woman, which Judge Lonsdale described as “despicable behaviour”.
“Those who take advantage of the elderly will be dealt with by severe punishment,” Judge Lonsdale said.
Ms Tolson pleaded guilty to nine stealing charges in total and will serve five and a half years in jail before she is eligible for and can be released on parole.
Accountant escapes jail
Meanwhile, a former certified accountant was spared time in jail over client thefts while he had been the director of a Perth accounting firm.
The District Court of Western Australia sentenced Neil Anthony Alessandrino to two years in jail, wholly suspended for 18 months, after he earlier pleaded guilty to gaining benefit by fraud.
Mr Alessandrino, a director at companies ASPL and Alessandrino Scivolo, had, on 25 occasions between 21 July 2010 and 22 June 2012, been found to have stolen money amounting to $43,821 by submitting false invoices resulting in personal reimbursements. He has since repaid the full amount stolen.
Originally charged with 29 counts of stealing and fraud, negotiations with the state over the amount owed ultimately saw Mr Alessandrino entering a guilty plea against one rolled-up charge.
His lawyer noted that Mr Alessandrino had surrendered “his CPA, certified practising accountant registration, he surrendered his public practising certificate and he surrendered his registration as a superannuation auditor” in light of pleading guilty.
Judge Belinda Lonsdale, who also oversaw this case, said in her sentencing remarks that Mr Alessandrino had caused “a significant breach of trust” and was motivated by a level of greed but accepted he was at low risk of reoffending.
“It appears that you generated false invoices to maintain the pretence that the funds were paid as genuine reimbursements,” Judge Lonsdale said.
“Essentially, you purported to have paid invoices on behalf of ASPL and submitted the false invoices for reimbursement when, in fact, no such expense had been incurred.
“Your offending, although ultimately it involves one count only, involved repeated instances of offending.”
Adam Zuchetti is the editor of My Business, and has steered the publication’s editorial direction since early 2016.
Ask the Experts: Does automation stack up financially?
By Christopher Overton
Opinion: How bad do things have to get?!
By Adam Zuchetti
Business lessons from the All Blacks
By Steve Stanley