October 17, 2021

ilpuntontc

Just Do Travel

Pokies-addicted travel agent who stole nearly $670k from pandemic-affected holidaymakers jailed

3 min read

A pokies-addicted travel agent has been jailed for pilfering refunds from disappointed travellers who cancelled their holidays because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Annette Roberts, 58, wept as she was sentenced in the County Court of Victoria to two years and eight months behind bars for stealing close to $670,000, much of it from holidaymakers while she was working at Travel and Cruise North East in Wangaratta.

Instead of processing the refunds, the mother-of-two diverted the funds into her own bank accounts in hundreds of transactions in order to fuel a profound addiction to poker machines.

Roberts’ addiction was so serious that she was gambling during her lunch breaks.

Small family business exploited, judge says

Judge Michael McInerney said Roberts’ conduct was a “gross breach of trust”.

“She’s exploited a small family business and produced for that family business and its owners an extremely serious impact upon them,” the judge said.

He told the court that once the pandemic struck and Roberts began working from home, she gambled online, patronising a website called House of Pokies.

“She won approximately $113,000 by way of various jackpots but also managed, in addition to the money she stole, to plough that back into the operation,” he said.

“The house never loses.”

Since quitting the pokies Barry can buy a sports car

A middle aged man in a grey hoodie stands smiling outside a pokies venue

After losing tens of thousands of dollars on the pokies over two decades, Barry said lockdown was the “best thing” that ever happened because it helped him quit. Anti-gambling campaigners say his story is rare.

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Within months of starting work as an agent for Travel and Cruise North East in 2017, Roberts was stealing from the family-owned business.

Between April 2018 and September 2020, Roberts skimmed $628,598 by diverting refunds into her own bank accounts in 522 transactions.

She also stole $40,636 by putting the cash on prepaid travel money cards in the names of clients.

Her scheme unravelled when a client called up the business to enquire about a refund she was expecting.

When confronted by the business, Roberts claimed that she had put the cash into the wrong account.

But an investigation found it went into her own account.

The owners of the travel agency, Kay and Bruce Reid, paid back all their customers out of their own pockets, but they were forced to sell two homes, including one left to them by a late family member.

Judge labels poker machines a ‘scourge’

The court heard Roberts had paid back just under $40,000.

Judge McInerney said her offending had stunned her own family.

“They are all incredulous that a habit that they were aware of could have become such an obsession,” he said.

He took aim at poker machines, which he called a “scourge” on society.

He ordered Roberts to spend at least 16 months behind bars before she can apply for parole.

“Ms Roberts I wish you well and I’m sure the positive comments made about you by all people, once you get over the service of this sentence, will prove to be,” he said.