Jailed: Josephine Margaret Bourke was sentenced to 3½ years jail after taking $62,500 fraudulently.
Jailed: Josephine Margaret Bourke was sentenced to 3½ years jail after taking $62,500 fraudulently.

Bourke jailed for over 3 years

A “GROSS betrayal of trust” ended with a Warwick woman being jailed for 3½ years for defrauding her employer of $62,500.

Josephine Margaret Bourke, 54, pleaded guilty to one count of fraud in the District Court at its last sitting in February, and was sentenced yesterday by Judge Leanne Clare SC.

The court heard details of the crime, which included taking money during seven months from the trust account of her employer, Harcourts Rural.

Bourke’s defence counsel argued her “immortal actions” (sic) were ones of desperation after investing in her 33-year-old daughter’s failed hairdressing business.

“My client borrowed $125,000 to assist her daughter in setting up a hairdressing salon which was unsuccessful and had no profits,” he said.

“She then started to fall behind in mortgage repayments, with overdrafts and, when the salon folded, she was left with the debts.”

The defence counsel said at this point she began taking money from her employer, where she had been promoted to property manager.

“It was not a crime of greed. (My client) was not a drug addict or a problem gambler – she just became financially stressed,” he said.

But the crown prosecutor advised Judge Clare of a section in Bourke’s psychological report – which took more than 10 minutes to read – that stated otherwise.

“Page 12 of the psychological report is of concern in relation to the defendant’s gambling and use of poker machines,” she said. “It states there was a monthly expenditure of $600 – more than the $100 a week offered in way of restitution.”

Judge Clare also questioned Bourke’s actions after she was arrested, with a letter dated December 4, 2009, stating $100 a week was all she could afford, given she was no longer employed and had no assets after taking her name off the title deed for her Warwick property.

“Your client stated she had no assets when she has simply unburdened herself with her principal asset just prior to (sending the letter),” Judge Clare said.

Bourke’s defence counsel said the house was changed to be owned solely by Bourke’s husband in an attempt to gain a loan to repay debts.

“If a bank sees on a loan application that one person could go to jail for some time... it would be a bad risk for the wife’s name to be on there, being unemployed and facing charges,” he said.

“Whereas the husband has had the same job for 30 years, a regular wage and is now the sole owner of the property so it can be mortgaged in his name – the financial risk is much more viable.”

The court also heard Bourke sold two of the family vehicles – a Harley Davidson and a Toyota Prado – in order to repay some of the debts incurred from the failed salon.

“Rather than paying back her employer?” Judge Clare questioned.

“Yes,” the defence counsel replied.

“The walls were closing in, there was a threat of bankruptcy and, if there had been legal proceedings, the house and land would have had to be sold which would have placed her husband in great difficulty.”

He asked that sentencing be adjourned until it was confirmed whether the pending loan application succeeded.

But Judge Clare questioned the defence counsel’s earlier assurance the loan would likely go through in Bourke’s husband’s name.

“On the basis that there is a significant asset behind the loan, I would be prepared to sentence today and allow six months for compensation to be made,” she said.

In her sentencing comments, Judge Clare told Bourke as a qualified agent she was “well aware” of her duties being responsible for the trust account, which by law had to be banked daily.

“You did it in a generally basic way yet, by using that generally basic method, you were able to take $5000 to $10,000 at a time – by the end of a seven-and-a-half-month period you kept $62,500,” she said.

“The offer of $100 a week would have taken 20 years to be repaid; the sincerity of the offer was undermined by the fact you transferred your house to your husband after the arrest and the letter to (Harcourts) stated you had no assets so that was all you could afford.

“You stole from your employer because you felt financial pressure but your husband had a good job and you had a good job.

“You stole from your employer yet still maintained a regular life which included regular expenditure in the form of gambling.”

Judge Clare branded Bourke’s actions as a “gross betrayal of trust both professionally and personally”.

“(Harcourts Rural principal) Max Holder had been a friend for 20 years and, once you found out you were being audited, approached Mr Holder and promised to pay him back,” Her Honour said.

“When the audit was complete, police were advised and you pleaded guilty at an early stage.

“Your co-operation saved the community the cost of a trial and you paid straight away the $3500 in termination entitlements.”

A conviction was recorded against Bourke and she was sentenced to 3½ years jail, to be suspended after 10 months.

“I order $59,470 compensation to be paid to the (Warwick Courthouse registrar) to forward on to Rose City Realty Pty Ltd by October 16,” Judge Clare said. “If this is not paid, you will be directed to appear again before this court to show cause as to why further action should not be taken.”

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