Car salesman stole from same employer twice
A car salesman has been sentenced to six months’ jail after he embezzled $14,000 from the same employer he had previously been convicted of stealing from.
Nevile Katopau Pei was sentenced to six months in jail for a charge of theft as a servant by Supreme Court Justice Tologata Tafaoimalo Tuala-Warren on Friday.
The charge carries a maximum penalty of 10 years' imprisonment. The sentencing is in connection to an embezzlement case involving Alnima Motors in July 2016.
The defendant was recently released from jail for serving a previous conviction for theft as a servant in 2018 that took place at the same employer.
According to the evidence produced during the trial, the accused was employed by Alnima Motors and part of his duties included receiving payments for vehicles and issuing receipts to customers buying vehicles.
A customer by the name of Sio Satoa gave the accused a total of $14,000 for a Toyota Premio 2005. This money was wrongfully kept by the accused.
According to the pre-sentence report, the accused is 40 years old and is married with six children. He and his wife run a small business to support their family, which includes his elderly father.
His wife and eldest child said that they experienced hardship when the accused was imprisoned. They both asked that he be given a non-custodial sentence so that he could support them.
The defendant’s mother says Katopau is a changed man since his return from prison and his elderly father, who is 82, will suffer and so too will his six young children if he goes back to prison.
Justice Tologata stated the manager of Alnina Motors confirmed that in September 2016, he spoke to the accused who wanted another chance to work for him and to pay the money back in full.
“He told [his probation officer] that he feels concerned and scared for his family should he be imprisoned for this matter,” the court was told.
“He remains adamant of his innocence but has accepted the court’s findings.
“The accused has previous convictions, five for theft as a servant and one for possession of narcotics in 2018.”
Justice Tologata pointed out a significant aggravating factor in sentencing is that the accused has breached the trust which was placed in him by his employer.
Also aggravating was the significance of the sum of money involved.
Justice Tologata said mitigating characters included positive written testimonials from his family and friends which tell of his previous character.
“I also take into account his personal circumstances, having a sickly elderly father and six young children, eldest being 14 years,” she said.
Justice Tologata further noted that prosecution was seeking three years imprisonment as the starting point for sentence, with an increase of six months for his previous convictions.
The defence argued that an alternative to a custodial sentence was appropriate given that this offending occurred within the same time period as his other four offences for which he has been sentenced and served 22 months imprisonment.
“[The] defence [claims] had prosecution thoroughly carried out its investigation, the accused would have been charged and sentenced on five counts of theft as a servant, not four (it was five counts so he would have been sentenced on six counts),” the court heard.
“This is an interesting argument. Prosecution files charges once it has sufficient evidence. The timing of the filing of those charges is not a matter into which the court should interfere.
“There is no evidence that the prosecution investigations were inadequate, and while the court can encourage the bringing of complete and all charges against an accused, the surfacing of evidence which gives rise to the filing of further charges are within the jurisdiction of the prosecution.
“In the absence of any evidence that prosecution was negligent in the filing of their charges, I do not accept as a mitigating factor that the accused has served his sentence for other charges during the same time period.
“The fact remains that he committed this offence as well regardless of whether the evidence surfaced now or in a few years’ time.”
Justice Tologata pointed out the court’s attitude to those found guilty of charges of theft as a servant is well documented and should be well known to the public by now.
Because of the seriousness and the prevalence of such offending usually a penalty of imprisonment is imposed, she said.
“The only time that it is not imposed is if there are exceptional circumstances warranting some other treatment,” she said.
“The reason for such penalties is not only to deter the offender himself/herself from such future behaviour but also others who may be tempted to follow his/her example.
Therefore the approach of this Court has been to send a stern message to the offender and community that theft as a servant has become all too prevalent in Samoa and is a scourge on Samoa’s commercial sector.
“I sympathise with the family of the accused that they will experience hardship if he is sent back to prison, but perhaps that is a consideration which the accused should have thought about,” Justice Tologata said.
“The culpability of the accused is at a higher level, stealing an amount of money which is not insignificant from his employer, and then taking steps to conceal it from them.”
The starting point for the sentence was three years imprisonment. But after deductions three months imprisonment remains for Katopau to serve.