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Paralegal given time to mull jail term

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justice scales and books Clyde Robinson

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Cape Town - A former paralegal conveyancing secretary who agreed to a prison sentence on charges of theft, fraud and money laundering, was given a postponement on Thursday, to next week, to reconsider.

Marie Johanna Christina Rodney, 59, of Parow, in Cape Town’s northern suburbs, would have started an agreed prison sentence on Thursday, in plea-bargain proceedings, but changed her mind and asked for a postponement to June 24.

She wished to reconsider whether to plead guilty and face prison in plea bargain proceedings, or to plead not guilty, and go on trial in the normal manner.

Plea bargain proceedings last about 30 minutes, as opposed to formal trial proceedings which can take weeks to finalise.

Rodney was a paralegal conveyancer with attorney firm Patel and Totos, which specialises in conveyancing and liquidations.

As conveyancing secretary, she had authority to receive funds from clients, and to make payments where due.

On five counts of theft, prosecutor Denzyl Combrink alleges that she diverted money paid by clients into her own bank account, instead of paying into the firm’s bank account.

On 22 counts of fraud, she is alleged to have inserted false bank details on payments to be made to clients.

She also faces 22 counts of money laundering and six of forgery.

A total sum of R322 277 is involved.

In Thursday’s proceedings, in the Bellville Specialised Commercial Crime Court, legal aid attorney Hayley Lawrence said Rodney wanted the plea bargain agreement, involving a period of imprisonment (not specified in court), implemented next week instead of immediately.

The State objected, on the grounds that the postponement was “too risky”, and magistrate Sabrina Sonnenberg refused.

The magistrate said she was willing to postpone the case for trial, if the plea negotiations with the State had collapsed.

However, she was not willing to postpone the case for the mere purpose of delaying the commencement of the prison sentence.

Later, however, the State agreed to the postponement, for further plea negotiations.

Rodney now has to indicate on June 24 whether she still agrees to the agreed prison sentence, or wishes to go on trial in the normal manner, and leave it to the court to decide the sentence, if convicted.

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