Employee Who Stole AU$3.7 Million Claims Gambling Addiction

  • The 53-year-old bookkeeper worked on a cruise line and stole the money over a five-year period
  • She created false vendors and would send company funds to private accounts
  • The woman would withdraw the funds from ATMs, using some to gamble
  • Judge believed her gambling addiction claim was false and gambling was used to launder funds
female crossing her fingers and holding money behind her back
A 53-year-old former bookkeeper faces a prison sentence of at least five years for stealing millions from her employer, Silversea Cruises, over a five-year period. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

Facing lengthy prison sentence

Mary Ann Abellanoza, a 53-year-old Filipino immigrant, stole AUS$3.7m (US$2.55m) from her employer to supposedly fund her gambling addiction.

The woman was employed as a bookkeeper by Silversea Cruises, a luxury cruise company. She is now facing a prison sentence of at least five years for stealing millions from the company between 2013 and 2018.

The woman was sentenced in Sydney, Australia, in relation to charges of dishonestly getting financial gain and dealing with the proceeds of crime. She had already pled guilty to these charges during the initial trial.

False vendors created

Abellanoza created a number of false vendors and then diverted funds that were earmarked for suppliers to some of her private bank accounts. A total of 236 fraudulent payments were made to seven accounts across three banks.

AUS$1.8m (US$1.24m) was withdrawn in cash from one particular ATM over this five-year period

The money she took would then be withdrawn using ATMs in different retail stores. The court heard that AUS$1.8m (US$1.24m) was withdrawn in cash from one particular ATM over this five-year period.

Speaking about the damage this could do to a company, the judge said: “These crimes can cause financial devastation on a company, its clients, shareholders and have a great impact on other people working within the organization.”

Gambling addiction claims refuted

When asked why she stole so much money, Abellanoza said that it was to feed her addiction to gambling.

According to her financial records, AUS$398,000 (US$274,000) of the stolen funds was lost by her when gambling. She had gambled AUS$3.1m (US$2.14m) on poker machines in Sydney.

The judge did not believe that the woman had a gambling problem. Instead, Judge Jane Culver believes that Abellanoza was using poker machines as a way to launder the stolen funds. Judge Culver said:

The offender appeared to have created a gambling account around the time of the criminal activity.”

Culver went on to say that the amount lost to gambling in total was not indicative of someone in the midst of a gambling addiction. Abellanoza did say that she wants to pay the money stolen back to her employers, but that it would likely take the rest of her life to do.

Other arguments from the defense

Part of the defense presented by Abellanoza’s legal team was that she was feeling undervalued by the company. Silversea Cruises did not give her a personal assistant, which had supposedly been promised. According to the cruise company, no such promise was ever made.

Other arguments from the defense team cited the poor mental health of their client, as well as having had a tough upbringing in the Philippines.

While Abellanoza expressed her regret and remorse in a letter to the court, the judge didn’t buy it.

A large chunk of the stolen money was used to fund a lifestyle that included trips to the United States. She also sent some of the funds to the Philippines.

The former bookkeeper had been working at the luxury cruise line since 2009 and had a lot of decent perks. These include a salary of AUS$88,000 (US$61,000) and a free cruise each year.

Her sentence is eight years of imprisonment, with a five-year period where she cannot be granted parole.

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