An Aussie travel agent could face jail time after stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of client refunds to support her gambling addiction.
Annette Roberts, a 58-year-old agent based in Victoria, ripped off customers to the tune of $628,598 by diverting client refunds to her own bank account in 522 transactions between April 2018 and September 2020, according to ABC News.
She also managed to steal $40,636 by loading the money on prepaid travel debit cards and putting them in the names of clients.
Roberts used the refunds to feed a gambling addiction that saw her using pokie machines during her lunch break and gambling online during lockdown.
The mother of two’s actions forced Kay and Bruce Reid, the owners of Travel and Cruise North East in Wangaratta where she had worked, to sell two properties to cover the lost refunds.
She pleaded guilty to two fraud charges in the County Court of Victoria on Tuesday and issued an apology to her victims.
“I would like to sincerely apologise for my theft and the hurt and pain I have caused you both,” Roberts said through her lawyer, according to ABC News.
“I’m so devastated and sorry for all the betrayal of trust and financial hardship, anxiety and embarrassment that I have caused from my stupid, unlawful actions.”
Roberts began working for the agency in 2017 and had been feeding her gambling addiction using short-term loans, which her lawyer said were already “out of control”.
She began stealing from her employers only months into her employment, and continued to do so for almost three years through customer refunds and by loading up prepaid travel money cards with cash using her clients’ names.
The court heard Roberts had repaid $22,500 and emailed her victims asking to pay back the rest on a $250 a week payment plan, in addition to a $30,000 lump sum before police were informed of her actions.
Kay Reid revealed that she and her husband have been forced to delay their retirement as a result of Roberts’ actions, alongside the 2020 bush fires and the global COVID-19 pandemic.
“Despite none of our clients being out of pocket over this embezzlement, we are now deeply concerned and anxious,” she said, according to ABC News.
“Small-town rumours that get misinterpreted can have huge impacts … our challenge now is to ensure people know that our business is secure.”
The judge dismissed Roberts’ apology and said online gambling was an “abomination”.
“I’m certain that apology would be a lot better if she had $600,000 to go with it, but unfortunately she hasn’t,” Judge Michael McInerney said.
“We’ve got a community where our government decided to introduce this scourge into our community and lives off it to [the tune of] millions and millions of dollars.
“To have people able to use them online is really an abomination if ever I’ve heard of one.
“That’s what’s so obnoxious about this sort of crime – that this loss to people occurred to no one else’s benefit but the proprietors of poker machines.
“Everyone else is decimated so they can make profit. It’s really outrageous.”
The now-former travel agent will be sentenced this month and will likely face jail time.
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