Pietermaritzburg - Former legal secretary Candida du Plessis has appealed against her seven-year jail term.

The 39-year-old mother of two, a former conveyancing secretary for the legal firm Stowell and Company, pleaded guilty in 2012 to the theft of R1.2 million over three years, from July 2008 to July 2011.

Du Plessis said she had begun to steal from the Pietermaritzburg company in July 2008 to pay off a personal debt with money lender Jason Carlyle.

She had stolen other money to “assist others” with their financial problems, she said.

She admitted stealing R1 212 526.51.

On February 22, 2010, she started to deposit stolen money into another account she had opened at Absa.

The directors of the law firm confronted her with their suspicions about her conduct on July 28, 2011.

Du Plessis resigned the next day.

She was sentenced by magistrate Jennifer Anthoo to 10 years in prison, three of which were conditionally suspended for five years.

The magistrate initially denied Du Plessis leave to appeal.

However, Du Plessis took her application further and successfully petitioned the judge president.

Arguing on her behalf in the Pietermaritzburg High Court, Gideon Scheltema, SC, submitted that Du Plessis had “succumbed to temptation” and started misappropriating funds to meet her debts. She had been on antidepressants as her dishonest behaviour had started to take a toll on her mental health.

Scheltema argued that the State had accepted Du Plessis’s plea explanation, in which she stated that she was remorseful for her actions.

He said Du Plessis had co-operated fully with Stowell & Company’s internal investigation.

She was also the mother of a young child.

Scheltema submitted that a sentence of five years’ imprisonment converted tocorrectional supervision would be appropriate in the circumstances.

State advocate Wendy Greef argued that Du Plessis had been in a position of trust and had abused that trust.

“South Africa is struggling with an epidemic of dishonest conduct in the form of widespread corruption, theft and fraud,” she said.

“It is trite that that is undermining the economy and is seriously jeopardising the development and prosperity of our new constitutional democracy.”

Greef said that the magistrate had correctly decided that the aggravating features – such as the excessive amount of money involved, the repeated offences over a long period and that Du Plessis had abused a position of trust – justified a term of direct imprisonment.

Judgment has been reserved.

Daily News