File Photo: Clyde Robinson

Cape Town - A mother of two, convicted of embezzling R6.8 million, was a “people pleaser” who was easily influenced by strong personalities, the Bellville Specialised Commercial Crime Court heard on Friday.

Over eight years, bookkeeper Leonora Elizabeth Bruyns, 55, of Fish Hoek in Cape Town, diverted amounts totalling R6 812 196 from a company that owned two supermarkets and a Mugg and Bean restaurant.

The company paid her a salary of R17 250 per month, the court heard.

Bruyns appeared before magistrate Sabrina Sonnenberg, who is to expected to sentence her on Monday on 402 counts of fraud.

Defence attorney William Booth hired private social worker Anne Cawood to assess Bruyns, and to suggest an appropriate sentence.

She said Bruyns had become romantically involved with a man, referred to in court only as “Mr Dylan”, who had a strong personality and had had a profound influence on her.

Bruyns met Dylan at a conference abroad, and he had kept in touch with her, Cawood said.

She said Bruyns started stealing from the company in 2004, beginning with small amounts. Bruyns got away with it the first time, then the second and third times, and when she realised how easy it was, it became a habit.

Cawood said the theft eventually became an addiction, “and then she met Dylan, and this just made her worse”.

Asked why Bruyns gave Dylan such large amounts, Cawood described him as an “experienced conman” and said Bruyns was probably blackmailed by him, and influenced by his strong personality.

“Bruyns does not fit the profile of someone who intentionally does bad.”

Earlier, Michael Flower, the director of the company that employed Bruyns, told the court the staff were shocked to hear that Bruyns had embezzled millions.

After she was found out, Bruyns “left the company very suddenly”, he said.

According to the charge sheet, Bruyns was appointed bookkeeper in March, 2002, and for eight years created fictitious beneficiaries on the company's bank accounts.

These included the SA Revenue Service, the Orion Provident Fund, a staff loan and the Gidani Lotto.

She then diverted money intended for the beneficiaries into her own bank accounts.

Bruyns was caught in November 2012, when the FNB's commercial division reported fraudulent transfers from the company accounts into hers, according to Flower.

According to the charge sheet, she used the money to pay accounts and for general expenses.

Questioned by prosecutor Derek Vogel, Flower told the court the loss to the company was probably around R10 million, taking into account the cost of engaging auditors to determine the extent of the embezzlement.