A former office administrator at OUT, the lesbian and gay organisation, has been sentenced to seven years in jail after pleading guilty to defrauding the organisation of more than R2.3 million.
Lizette Stassen appeared in the Specialised Commercial Crimes Court on Monday on 174 charges of fraud and theft.
Three years of her seven-year sentence were suspended for four years. The 43-year-old mother of one immediately asked for leave to appeal against the sentence and is waiting for the matter to go before the Pretoria High Court. In February, the Pretoria High Court ordered Stassen to repay the R2.3m she had stolen, apparently to feed her addiction to online gambling.
She said she had defrauded OUT of only R1.8m. It was because of shoddy management and poor financial controls that she’d had “ample opportunity to commit fraud”.
From June 2007 to October 2010, she was OUT’s office administrator and authorised to effect banking transactions, including internet banking, through OUT’s accounts.
She was also authorised to sign cheques, to instruct Absa to transfer funds from OUT’s banking accounts and to make payments to specified beneficiaries.
Only Stassen and two other OUT employees were authorised to make these payments through internet banking, and each was allocated a unique PIN number and password. OUT also issued Stassen with a credit card to make payments on its behalf for goods and services.
Stassen managed to have the PIN numbers of the other two employees reset, enabling her to effect transactions through OUT’s internet banking facility.
She arranged for money to be transferred from OUT’s accounts to her savings account or to beneficiaries she nominated.
Stassen also used OUT’s credit card to pay for goods and services for herself and her family and made payments for her online gambling from this credit card.
OUT said it became aware of the theft when its books were audited. Stassen admitted to her employer that she had taken the money.
Criminologist Professor Anna van der Hoven said the laissez-faire attitude of the board of directors led Stassen to believe she “could just as well make use of the opportunity to enrich herself”.
Although Stassen admitted liability, she did not repay any money until March 14, when she gave R10 000 to OUT.
She promised to continue paying this amount until she had repaid the full sum.
“If I could afford to compensate them more per month I would do so,” Stassen testified.
Robert Cameron-Ellis, treasurer at OUT, told the court on Monday the board would prefer that Stassen went to jail instead of repaying the money in monthly amounts. OUT is desperate to show its international donors it can be trusted with funds.
It was a difficult time for OUT, as it had to retrench more than 12 staff members, Cameron-Ellis said. The organisation had been insolvent for four years.
OUT has also taken Absa to court in relation to the thefts.