Justice Tuatagaloa jails man for stealing $28,000 from work

A man who stole $28,000 from his former employer has been jailed for a year and 10 months.

Nevile Katopau’s sentencing was handed down by Supreme Court Justice, Mata Keli Tuatagaloa.

The man from Vaitele appeared in Court for five counts of theft as a servant and one charge of possession of 18 marijuana rolls. 

The defendant was represented by lawyer, Leota Tima Leavai while prosecuting from the Attorney General’s Office was Fuifui Ioane. 

According to the Police summary of facts, the offending was carried out on four separate occasions in June and August 2016 and the total amount stolen was $28,000.

Katopau was employed as a Sales Representative for Alnima Motors and at times as an Acting Manager. 

The 37-year-old was a taxi driver prior to working for Alnima Motors. 

Justice Tuatagaloa pointed out the aggravating factors of the offense includes breach of trust and the amount stolen is not minimal but significant.

 It was also not a one-off offending, but multiple times over a period of two-three months; and the degree of culpability is high because the offending was premeditated.

It was also noted in Court that the defendant is a first time offender and that testimonies by his parents; wife and Rev. Senara speak of his good character prior to the offending. 

“There is nothing suggesting that the accused was not of good character prior to the offending.” 

Justice Tuatagaloa also noted that restitution has been paid in the amount of $22,000.

“The submission by his counsel is that the accused is working towards paying back the amount remaining of $6,000 to the third victim. 

“He has only paid $1,000 yet has had ample time to pay it off but still hasn’t.” 

The Court also took into consideration Katopau’s personal circumstances.

“The offences the accused is charged with are ‘dishonest’ offences. 

“They are very serious offences which Parliament imposes a high penalty of maximum 10 years’ imprisonment.

“Prosecution has asked for a custodial sentence for the theft as a servant charges with a starting point of five years, and 12 months’ supervision for the possession of narcotics.” 

The Supreme Court Justice noted that defense Counsel sought a non-custodial sentence given that Katopau repaid most of the money taken and is in the process of repaying the amount of $6,000 outstanding that if a custodial sentence is imposed, the accused won't be able to pay the amount outstanding.

Justice Tuatagaloa stated: “I don’t like the tone of counsel’s submission. If the accused was genuine, he has had ample time to pay back the amount he stole. 

“Those monies were not his in the first place. The fact also that his wife is pregnant with their sixth child is not a good enough reason not to impose a custodial sentence where the circumstances of the offending warrants it.

“I will take into account those reasons raised by counsel to discount whatever sentence I impose. In saying that, I consider that a custodial sentence is appropriate.” 

Tuatagaloa sentenced Katopau to 22 months imprisonment for each of the four charges of theft as a servant. 

For the drug charge, he was sentenced to eight months supervision with the condition to attend the eight weeks alcohol/drugs programme. 

She also ordered that sentencing will run concurrently. 

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