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Woman stole from family business at Wairoa’s Vista Motor Lodge

A woman given a rent-free room for her family at Wairoa’s Vista Motor Lodge in exchange for doing work there, stole more than $450,000 from the business, Gisborne District Court has heard.

Danielle Sancia Grant aka Danielle Mete, 33, pleading guilty yesterday to four representative charges – two of theft (over $1000), and two of dishonestly accessing a computer system.

She had previously denied the allegations and her case was tracking towards a jury trial.

After taking the pleas yesterday, Judge Warren Cathcart further remanded Grant on bail for sentence on January 21.

The judge warned her the level of fraud involved commanded a term of imprisonment as a sentence starting point. His continuance of her bail meantime was no indication Grant would ultimately avoid jail.

The offending, between last April and December, involved total funds of $452,551.

According to an agreed summary of facts, the motel owners - a couple in their 60s - purchased the business in 2017. But both at times were grappling with medical issues and came to rely heavily on Grant’s help in the daily running of the motel.

In 2019, Grant had to move out of her Wairoa house. The couple gave her and her partner and their five children a two bedroomed unit at the motel. It was rent-free in exchange for Grant’s work with various tasks about the property.

Her duties became more administrative. But entrusted with the financial side of the business, she took advantage of being able to access its accounts and squirrelled away funds through hundreds of separate transactions she labelled Expedia payments.

(Expedia is a well-established internet booking agency, specialising in travel and accommodation.)

One of the motel owners became suspicious about the financial state of their business last year, after noticing the business’ bank account tallies were going down when they should have been increasing.

When asked about it, Grant said she would sort it out, later reporting back that the payments were a glitch after Covid-19 and that Expedia had agreed to rectify the situation.

It never happened.

The motel owner contacted the ANZ Fraud investigations team and later, police. A subsequent investigation, involving analysis of the business’ and Grant’s personal accounts, confirmed she stole the money.

As at December 31, last year, only $200 was left in her accounts. All other money had either been withdrawn from ATM machines in Wairoa, spent at retail premises, or transferred into other bank accounts.